Years ago at Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo, I had a simple, astonishing dish: a whole roasted fish served with Lemon Oregano Jam. The jam was a marvel, at once sweet, bitter and herbal in perfect balance, an inspired match for the fish. When the Babbo Cookbook came out, I decoded Mario’s brilliant recipe, extracting an essential formula into which I plugged different citrus fruit and flavorings, to take it from savory to sweet and back. (It’s the filling I whipped up for the Brown Sugar Coconut Cake.)
I never imagined how ingenious Mario’s lemon jam premise would turn out to be; by some strange alchemy, the creamy texture and vivid taste is achieved by simply pureeing whole lemons in a food processor, with some sugar, salt, herbs and olive oil. Typical of Mario: inspired, unfussy, delicious.
I made notes and them tried my ideas out: swapping out the oregano for other herbs — lavender and thyme were particularly lovely–, the neutral oil with olive or hazelnut; upping the sugar and taking away the herbs to make a sweet jam that could be used in a dessert; replacing the lemon with Mineola tangelos and Meyer lemons to shift the essential flavoring. Increase the sugar and it becomes a sweet; decrease the sugar, it’s savory.
Once I realized it’s possibilities for sweet jams, I went to town. I layered tangelo jam with vanilla ice cream in parfait glasses to make something akin to a Creamsicle. Since it takes about 10 minutes to make, I’d whip up jams to fill cakes, spread on pancakes and toast, fold into whipped cream to make an instant mousse. It is, of course, divine in Coconut Cake (below).
The recipe above shows Mario’s original savory version that he served with roasted Branzino or a grilled veal chop.
Here’s my sweet jam formula for desserts:
Recipe: Lemon, Tangelo or Meyer Lemon Jam, Dessert Sauce and/or Filling
Because the jam thickens as it sits, make it within an hour of serving. To thin, beat in a few teaspoons of water or citrus juice.
Makes about 1 cup
2 large lemons, preferably thin-skinned, 4 to 5 ounces each OR 2 small Mineola tangelos (about 5 ounces each) OR 3 Meyer Lemons (10 ounces total)
5 to 6 tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons grape seed, canola, almond or avocado oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
Cut the tough ends off the fruit and discard. Cut each fruit lengthwise into eighths, removing the pits as you go; cut each slice in half crosswise.
Transfer to a food processor and add the sugar and salt. Process to a coarse puree. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until creamy.
Puree until you have a thick “jam”.Adjust the seasoning. The jam should have just enough salt to heighten the flavor, without your being aware there is salt.