I've never been one to buy a lot of cookbooks. While I love to pore over the pages for inspiration, or drool over the glossy pictures, I have trouble making a purchase. Sometimes I'll talk myself out of it, figuring that although the pictures draw me in, realistically I'll only end up making one or two of the recipes. But even with cookbooks I love, cookbooks that make me daydream about the author becoming my best friend and inviting me to dinner parties, the books stay on the bookstore shelves. Because if I start with buying one cookbook, where and how will I stop? So I stick to the library.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, an amazing cookbook by Paula Wolfert, trumped my cookbook-purchasing hesitation with just one recipe. I checked her book out of the library, made the Herb Jam with Olives and Lemons, and walked over to the bookstore and bought my own copy. I've since made another half dozen of the recipes, and they've all been wonderful.
I can't pretend that this herb jam isn't a good bit of work. While some of the entries in this cookbook earn their "slow" designation because of a long simmer, or a few hours in a cool oven, this one is slow because it takes a lot of labor. You've got to clean and stem a whole mess of herbs and greens, steam them until they soften and shrink disappointingly, chop them up, and then saute them with olive oil and a few spices until they become a smooth paste. But the results are like nothing I've ever tasted.
Wolfert adapted this spread from a traditional Moroccan recipe, in which local greens and herbs are cooked over charcoal embers. The jam has a "green" flavor, but it's also got a surprising depth from the cooking method and smoked paprika (which replicates the traditional charcoal smokiness). The herbs soften and mellow, adding flavor without their customary sharpness. The original recipe calls for adding some oil-cured olives, but the complex flavor of the greens is so lovely that you don't need the distraction.
Moroccan Herb Jam
adapted from Herb Jam with Lemons and Olives, Paula Wolfert, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
makes about 1 cup (I often make a double batch)
In addition to being delicious as written below, this recipe can easily accommodate other additions. I've replaced the celery leaves with some Asian celery greens, swapped out chard for spinach, and added the celery-sharp lovage leaves that grow like weeds here in the Northwest. All make for delicious herb jam.
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 lb spinach leaves, stemmed (or baby spinach, or chard)
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, stemmed
1/2 bunch cilantro, stemmed (~1/2 cup)
1/2 cup celery leaves, or lovage
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
1 pinch cayenne (if using sweet Pimenton, omit if using hot)
1 pinch cumin
1 Tbsp lemon juice, or more to taste
Set a steamer basket above simmering water. Place the greens and garlic, and steam until tender (about 10 minutes -- you may need to do this in batches). Set the garlic cloves aside. Press the greens into a strainer to wring out the excess water, and finely chop.
Set a heavy skillet over a medium flame, and heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Press the garlic cloves into the oil, and add the Pimenton, cayenne, and cumin. Stir until sizzling and fragrant (it should take less than a minute). Add the greens and cook, stirring occasionally and mashing a bit with a wooden spoon, until they have begun to break down and become somewhat dry, smooth mixture (~20 minutes). The color will darken a bit.
Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in the remaining oil, making a smooth spread, and season with salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve with flatbread, crackers, or sliced crusty loaves. The flavor improves if you make it a day ahead of time (stir in the lemon juice the day you're serving), but I seldom want to wait.