Whoever relegated jam to breakfast toast didn’t know what they were missing at dinner. A jam is just a condensed fruit or vegetable spread, often but not always made with sugar. Many vegetables have some natural sweetness, but the fact that they also possess savory notes means that vegetable jams can be more complex than their fruity counterparts. As such, they are delicious foils for dishes that need a punch of sweet, from grilled pork chops to turkey sandwiches. And, you don’t have to make big batches or can your jams: enough to garnish tonight’s dinner or tomorrow’s sandwich is plenty. Here’s why and how to make sweet-and-savory jams out of five common spring and summer vegetables.
When you put onions in a pan with a little bit of butter and cook them for a long, long time, their natural sugars come out to play. You’ll see the white color of the onions turn brown as they caramelize, and, if you’re very patient, after an hour you’ll have a rich golden jam to spread on everything in sight. Though it’s mouth-watering on its own, you can add extra flavor to the jam by frying some bacon first, then cooking the onions in the fat and returning the crumbled bacon to the pan at the end. All kinds of herbs, from sage to tarragon, also pair perfectly here.
“I never understood what tomato jam was until I had a taste of a friend’s homemade variety and was wowed,” writes author Laena McCarthy in her book Jam On. What wowed her was the splendid taste of sunshine you get when you stew tomatoes with complementary flavors like jalapeno, lemon, ground cinnamon, and cloves. Your jam will have the flavor of whatever tomatoes you used, so you’ll want to make it when the heirloom varieties are perfectly ripe. It’s almost like ketchup but much, much fresher. Use tomato jam on sandwiches (it’s great on grilled cheese), or to garnish a cheese plate or piece of grilled fish.
You might not typically think of zucchini as a jammy vegetable, but something miraculous happens when the water cooks out of finely shredded summer squash: it tastes buttery and just barely sweet–rich and refreshing all at once. Though this isn’t a jam in the technical sense, condensing the zucchini turns it buttery and spreadable. (Try this recipe for zucchini butter/marmalade if you’re skeptical.) Use zucchini jam on egg-topped toasts or in grilled cheese sandwiches, or thin it with olive oil to make a divine sauce for ravioli.
Pepper jelly is a traditional accompaniment for roasts, from beef to fish, and there’s a reason the fruity dollop is so beloved: it brings out the best in the foods it’s paired with. You’ll need to get your hands on some pectin to make this jelly thick—and don’t be alarmed at the one-to-one ratio of sugar to peppers (that’s what makes this stuff so delicious).
We think of rhubarb as a fruit, but in fact the sour stalks turn into a sweet-and-sour jam when cooked down with plenty of sugar. Because of its two-faced nature, rhubarb jam terrifically augments the tastes of rich meats, so after you make it, try bringing it out to the barbecue to top grilled pork chops or juicy steaks.