This dish is similar to peperonata, shares ingredients with caponata, but is more of a relish. It could be used sparingly as a condiment or generously as a main ingredient.

With all of that variation, it is hard to reason why I am having such trouble finding the words to appropriately introduce this bowl of piquant peppers and eggplant. I feel a bit sheepish, as the inadequacy falls squarely on my shoulders; the relish is rather tasty and possesses a multitude of positive attributes. Cut into thin lengths and roasted, the vegetables delicately slip across the palate, sweet and unctuous. Vinegar-steeped then soothed with olive oil, they have an acidity that sets the mouth to water.

I will say, despite the lack of fanfare and my difficulty with uncharacteristic taciturnity, this relish has been extraordinarily easy to enjoy. Three jars have resided in our fridge in as many weeks, with the ingredients for a subsequent batch always waiting at the ready. Maybe that record is endorsement enough.

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER RELISH

The generous quantity of vinaigrette thoroughly bathes the cooked vegetables and results in a particularly-succulent result. These juices will cloud slightly when refrigerated, due to the olive oil, but will clear once brought to room temperature. Can be served as a sandwich spread (above), an antipasti, or as an accompaniment to grilled and roasted meats and poultry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 red bell peppers, seeded, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4" batons
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and then sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar, see note
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). On a standard rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan, toss together the peppers and eggplant. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add 3/4 of the onion (reserve the rest) and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft but without much colour, about 25-30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, make the vinaigrette; combine the vinegar, capers, garlic and basil. Slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup of olive oil, until thick and emulsified. Mix in the reserved onion and the red pepper flakes (if using), season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

When finished roasting, tumble the hot vegetables into the vinaigrette, tossing well to combine. Make sure to scrape any caramelized bits off of the pan and any accumulated juices. Allow the vegetables to marinate for 20 minutes at the least, serving the relish warm. My preference is to cool the mixture, then refrigerate in a sealed container overnight. It can then be served at room temperature or warmed gently.

Makes about 2 cups.

Notes:

• The reserved raw onion will slightly pickle in the vinaigrette. You can skip this step, but I like how they turn into translucent ribbons of concentrated acidity.

• For those who might find good quality balsamic vinegar overly intense, you could substitute 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar for the same quantity of balsamic.

Mark Bittman's tomato jam; wonderful to look at, tastes even better. Photos taken by my sister-in-law.

It was love at first sight. Or at least greed at first glance.

It was early. I was still in my pajamas and had only recently padded into the kitchen. Coffee in hand, I flicked open the newspaper and there it was. Across the countertop lay spread a photo so alluring, so beautiful, that my breath caught and I stopped mid sip.

Now what ever could have caught my rapt attention? What was the object of my early-morning desire, you ask?

Mark Bittman's Tomato Jam. (You know me well enough to know it would be about food.)

But seriously. Look at this. It is just a spoonful of gorgeousness. To call it red would be a disservice; it seems too plain. Scarlet doesn't cut it, brick doesn't even come close. Vermilion? Crimson? I cannot come up with an adjective that captures the particular hue of this luscious-looking stuff.

Attempts to describe aside, I did know one thing from the start. I wanted to try this jam. I needed to make it. And I needed to make it right away.

And so, I set about making a batch of tomato jam. Lucky for me, my dear Sean is used to the vagrancies of my behaviour and said not a word when I started mincing green chilies and ginger. After a minimal bit of chopping, stirring and grinding, on my stove sat a bubbling pot. Soon the smell of coffee met and mingled with scents of ripe tomatoes and grassy cumin, with an underlying warmth of cinnamon and clove.

The pot remained for the remainder of the coffee, and for the duration of breakfast. All the while deepening in colour and texture; what started out as bright and watery slowly turned darker, richer. In the end, I was left with a sticky sweet relish, heady with spice but with a good balance of acidity. It was complex without being overly complicated.

The jam was even better after it cooled overnight in the fridge. Akin to a chutney, it is an unexpected but delicious accompaniment to bread and cheese. I would offer more suggestions for its use, but I haven't gotten that far; I've just started exploring the possibilities.

I can tell you this though, this tomato jam looks good enough to eat. And its looks do not deceive.

TOMATO JAM

By Mark Bittman, as published in the New York Times (August 19, 2008) and in syndication.

Recipe and an associated video are both available online.

Notes:

  • I used a mix of tomatoes from our garden, all rather sweet in their own right. While I understand its role in setting the jam, I was still wary of the amount of sugar in the recipe - so I used a generous 3/4 of a cup and upped the tomatoes to a full 2 pounds.
  • For another savoury note I included 1 large garlic clove, grated.
  • Wanting enough heat to cut through the sweetness, I used two small green chilies instead of the jalapeño.
  • When I make this again I might include a bit of lime zest..
  • Most likely due to the reduced amount of sugar and additional tomatoes, my cooking time was closer to 2 hours to reach the consistency I was looking for.