Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tomato happy

Last week, as I was preparing a horiatiki salata (Greek salad) for dinner, a sweet smell hit me as I was cutting into one of the tomatoes. Juices came running down my fingers and I immediately brought a wedge to my mouth. As I tasted it, it dawned on me. The tomato season has started!

I get so excited when I taste the first tomatoes of summer. Their flavor is infinitely superior to the ones you've been eating all winter long, that they suddenly seem like the sweetest thing you've ever had the pleasure of introducing to your taste buds. Ranging from pale golden to bright red and to glossy burgundy they are what summer is all about. That day, the salad was preferred to the main meal.

In Greek cuisine, there is a multitude of ways to use the simple tomato fruit; well it technically is a fruit after all. Apart from the famous Greek salad that every person who ever visited Greece is familiar with, there is the traditional dish of gemista, one of my all time favorite dishes, which is baked tomatoes stuffed with minced meat and rice and then there's every other Greek dish that includes tomatoes, which is almost 80% of your typical Greek dishes.

The Greek variety of beefsteak tomato that comes from the beautiful island of Crete is incredibly flavorsome and widely used but the most exquisite and rare variety of Greek tomatoes is that of the cherry tomato of Santorini island, also known as tomatini. Being smaller than the normal cherry tomato and having slightly flat sides, this unique variety has very thick skin, is extremely flavorful with both sweet and sour notes and highly aromatic.

Grown exclusively in Santorini, this variety is being harvested on anhydrous and volcanic soil and the tomatoes manage to acquire the necessary moisture they need for their survival from the mist that spreads over the island during the night. It has been found that this variety has more vitamin C than the average tomato and it has also been shown to contain the largest amount of lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Tomato paste is also produced from this small miracle of a tomato.

The cherry tomatoes of Santorini have been cultivated there since 1875 and by the 20th century there were almost 20,000 acres of land that were being harvested and fourteen tomato processing factories that were in operation. A massive earthquake in 1956 that caused great damage to the land as well as the rise in tourism, struck a blow to the tomato farming industry leaving only a few acres of land to be cultivated, a few islanders interested in continuing the tomato farming tradition and one processing factory still in operation. Most of these factories have now been converted to restaurants or bars.

I wish I could find these glorious miniature-sized fresh Santorini tomatoes in Holland but unfortunately I can't- they are even scarce in Greece. I have to settle for the normal cherry tomatoes which, in all fairness, are not at all bad but indeed quite delicious. I love using them in all kinds of salads, savory tarts and sauces, roasting them in the oven with lots of herbs, or stuffing them with cheese. Recently though, I discovered another way of enjoying these bright little jewels; by making tomato jam.

I love savory jams and chutneys. I think they are the best accompaniment to so many dishes that they are definitely worth making a batch of every now and then and keep in the fridge to spice up all kinds of boring dishes.
This cherry tomato jam has a vibrant red color and a sweet and slightly sour flavor with a hint of heat. Its jammy texture is well contrasted by the small shallot wedges and garlic slices and its powerful aromas are able to excite the senses. The combination of ingredients in this jam is uniquely straightforward. Tomatoes, shallots, garlic, sugar, vinegar, olive oil. You could make a simple salad with these ingredients and yet, by cooking them all together in a specific way, you end up with a delicious and original condiment.

Feel free to use different kinds of tomatoes for this jam, mince the garlic or remove it completely, finely chop the shallot if you don't like its texture (like my boyfriend), add more heat, add more spices (cumin or cinnamon or both would be great in this), herbs (like dried oregano or thyme), substitute vinegar for lemon or even lime juice. Play with it.

Play with pairings for this jam. I used it to enliven the taste of a plain roasted chicken and it was a hit. I served it on top of crostini with a little crumbled feta and a sprinkling of Greek dried oregano as an appetizer and it was fantastic. I substituted the boring and uninspiring ketchup in my homemade burgers with the zingy and fresh taste of this tomato jam and it was exceptional. There is so much more you can do with it. Just use your imagination.

Cherry Tomato Jam
Adapted from Donna Hay

This is a quick and easy recipe. It doesn't require a lot of prep work and the jam takes only 40-45 minutes to cook.

The cherry tomatoes need to be deseeded because they contain a lot of water but not peeled. I don't mind tomato skins in the jam at all but in case you do, go right ahead and peel them.
You can also use plum (Roma) instead of cherry tomatoes though they might require more cooking time (about 1 hour).

Yield: 1 heaped cup

500 g fresh cherry tomatoes
4 small shallots (around 70 g), peeled and quartered
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
75 g caster (superfine) sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder*
1/2 tsp sea salt


Deseeding the cherry tomatoes
Make sure you wear an apron when you deseed the cherry tomatoes because this might get a bit messy. Some seeds may fly around once you crush the tomatoes!

Rinse the cherry tomatoes well under running water, remove their stems, put them in a colander and place it in your sink or over a big bowl. Gently crush the tomatoes, using your hands or a potato masher, allowing the seeds and water to run out of them. Once you've deseeded all of them, shake the colander well so that any seeds or water drains out.

Make the jam
Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes or until soft and translucent.
Add the deseeded cherry tomatoes, red wine vinegar, sugar, cayenne pepper and salt and bring to the boil over medium-high heat.
Then lower heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture doesn't get burned, for 40-45 minutes or until mixture has thickened and has the consistency of jam.
Remove saucepan from heat and if you want to serve the jam the same day, let it cool completely.

If you want to store or preserve it, take a hot sterilized glass jar- making sure you're not touching the inside of the jar- and fill it with the still hot jam. Secure the lid tightly and put the jar in a cool, dry place for storage.
You may keep an unopened sterilized jar of this jam in a dark and cool place for up to a year.

Once you open a jar, you have to immediately refrigerate it. It will keep for about 2-3 weeks, as long as you don't contaminate it with dirty spoons or hands.
(Read this)

How to sterilize glass jars
Sterilizing jars is extremely important if you wish to preserve jams. It is unhealthy and risky to store jams in unsterilized glass jars.
Preheat your oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Wash the jars and lids with soap in hot water. Put them, while still damp and without touching the inside of the jars and lids, on a baking tray, open sides up, and into the oven for 35 minutes. Take them out of the oven, fill jars with the hot cooked product and seal the lids immediately.

*In case you don't like the heat of the cayenne pepper- even though it is quite subtle in this recipe- you can substitute it with 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.


  1. Homemade tomato jams/chutneys are the best and can be used do many diffrent ways. Excellent recipe!

  2. Magda you want Santorini tomatoes in Holland? We don't even get them in Athens :) Great recipe Magda, I've never made a tomato jam before and maybe I should try it one of these days.

  3. Ivy, I could never find the fresh ones in Athens either, but the canned ones can surely be found in AB Vasilopoulos super market. A trip to Santorini is definitely needed!

  4. Tomatoes are magical. I just love them. Even in the dead of winter I have to have cherry tomatoes around for salad. Really looking forward to our tomatoes ripening. I think I will find myself making tomato jam at some point. Thank you for posting this recipe.

  5. Hi Magda,
    Wonderful work here. Love the styling and the recipe of course!

  6. love tomato season , cherry tomato jam oh I love it...great pics, I also love how you added the how to on sterilizing the jars.


  7. Beautiful photography! Love this freshly made tomato jam.

  8. Great article on tomatoes! Taking note too as I am contemplating an escapade to Greece this summer and don't know where to go yet. Love the idea of a tomato jam! Here we just can a sauce but a jam with all our tomatoes in the mountain home is a splendid tip.

  9. Santorini would be the perfect place to escape to. It's an amazingly beautiful island with gastronomic and culinary interest as well!

  10. My boss - the dean of the college - is in Santorini today! I am sure she is happily devouring incredible Greek food. It is just tomato time here in the Arizona desert, too - loved your tomato piece and can't wait to try your jam, and also to make homemade tomato soup. There is NOTHING like it! Perhaps my next blog entry??

  11. Your boss is a lucky lady! Being in Santorini this time of summer is fantastic.

  12. I've made a commitment that this summer, no new harvest fare will go unappreciated.

    Summer Solstice is today, but here's an astronomical factoid if you need another reason to celebrate the warmer weather. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and also marks the point where Earth is furthest from the sun. But, because of inertia, July 4-5 are typically the "slowest" days of the year: the days in which Earth's orbital speed is the slowest. That's why everyone is so laid back in the summer!

  13. Oh yum. There is so much you could do with this, but I'd seriously want to eat it out of a jar with a spoon! But it also looks amazing as s crostini topping with feta.

    Happy summer! :)


  14. Delicious and gorgeous! I have never tried tomato jam, but your photos and descriptions of these incredible little Santorini tomatoes make me want to run out and buy some fresh tomatoes. I highly doubt the ones around here will be as yummy as the Santorini tomatoes, but it might still be okay...certainly good enough to eat!

  15. I love tomatoes....and that bit of crumbled feta on top looks heavenly. I mean being Greek, it can't be anything else :-) and you are right, I almost never make tomato sauces without some oregano and cumin!

  16. Great! I just had a post on my tomato infatuation and there you have, happy with your tomatoes :D

  17. Just bookmarked this post - love the idea of turning something like tomatoes into jam - I can imagine it would be great as a spread on a ham and cheese sandwich.

  18. Those tomatoes looks so round and delicious! I've never had tomato jam before, much less made it, but it looks delicious! I'll have to try making it one day- I love tomotoes too, and it sounds like a really good alternativet o tomato sauce =]

  19. Just back from ten days in the sun, and I ate more sun ripened tomatoes than I should have. They are probably the thing I miss the most! These Santorini tomatoes sound very good - have you ever had the chance to try 'datterini' from Sicily? From the description you give, they could be similar.

  20. Caffettiera, no I haven't tried datterini. This is the first I've heard of them. I looked them up and I think they're more similar to the cherry tomato rather than the tomatini from Santorini. I have to try them, though I don't think I can find them in Holland. Thanks for introducing me to another type of tomato!

  21. I LOVE tomato season! I love these billion ways to make it - cherry tomato jam? Why not? I gotta give this a try!

  22. I love how your blog has such a fresh and summery feel to it and the pictures are striking!

    A little new in the blogosphere - and just chanced upon your site.

    Do visit mine whenever you have a chance.

  23. What a positively delicious tomato jam! I have to keep this in mind for when my garden is overflowing...if I can wait that long. All of this delicious talk of tomatoes sure has me craving...

  24. Thanks for visiting my blog, Magda. So glad you did! I love summer tomatoes and Greece so much, and now I have you in my RSS feed!

  25. it's a delicious way to eat tomatoes! this recipe is perfect to make emerge the sweet flavour of this fruit!

  26. Fresh tomatoes make life worth living!! The winter ones seem so pale and tasteless in comparison.

  27. Yeah, pretty sure this is my lunch tomorrow. So delicious!