"In the midst of so many other big flavors, rosemary's tendency to overwhelm is muted to a pleasant back note."
This past weekend I was given my annual windfall of lush, deep-green rosemary from my cousin Armand's herb garden. Not a mere handful of sprigs—I'm talking about an entire paper bag of the stuff. I dry some of the load for the winter, but my heart always tells me to use as much as possible while it is fresh and loaded with essential oil.
Rosemary's flavor is strongest in the summer, and that strength means that you either have to use it sparingly or match it with equally strong players that can march alongside its assertiveness. A perfect example is this sweet and sour onion jam, or confiturra. Slow, careful reduction capitalizes on the natural sweetness of onions, and being jacked up with balsamic vinegar and honey provide the perfect vehicle for rosemary to release its full, resin-y qualities. There's something liberating about grabbing an otherwise scary amount of this herb and tossing it into a pot with wild abandon. In the midst of so many other big flavors, rosemary's tendency to overwhelm is muted to a pleasant back note.
Exercise your freedom with the onions, too. The confiturra works wonderfully with white, yellow, and red onions, or a mix of all three. Either way, it's a bargain; onions are still relatively cheap, and the full recipe below yields about three cups of confiturra. I pack it into canning jars, leaving me one to store in the pantry, one to keep in the refrigerator, and give one as a gift.
Three jars provide so many truly delicious options. I love to toast some bread rounds, spread them with fresh ricotta and add a generous layer of the confiturra, a perfect late afternoon snack to have with apertivi. It is heavenly on a steak sandwich or with any other grilled or roasted meat. Bake it onto pizza or foccacia dough with some olive oil and fresh black pepper, or toss it in pasta—try it with rigatoni, roasted cauliflower, and a grating of grana padano or ricotta salata.
After you've sliced the mountain of onions, don't forget to use Julia Child's trick for getting the onion smell off your hands, knife, bowls and board: give them a good scrub with kosher salt and rinse with cool water. It works every time.
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- 3 pounds peeled and trimmed onions (yellow, white, red, or a mix)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 ounce fresh rosemary, or about 6 long, full branches*
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 to 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup sugar
Cut the onions in half and slice them thinly crosswise; you should have about 10 heaping cups of onions.
Heat the oil in a heavy 5 or 6-quart stock pot with a tight-fitting lid and add the onions, turning them over repeatedly in the oil to coat them. Add the rosemary and bay leaves, burying them in the onions. Season the onions with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes, until they have softened and released their liquid, and the rosemary has wilted.
Remove the lid and add the vinegars, wine, honey, and sugar, stirring well. Season the mixture with 1 more teaspoon of salt and a few more grinds of black pepper. Maintain the heat at a steady simmer and continue to cook the onions for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the mixture often with a wooden spoon.
When the liquid has reduced by about half, pick out and remove the rosemary stems and bay leaves and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Taste the confiturra and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
As the liquid continues to reduce, you must be careful to keep stirring to prevent the confiturra from scorching. Continue cooking the mixture until it is soft, sticky, and moves from the bottom of the pan as you stir Be careful not to let it caramelize.
Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then spoon it carefully into sterilized jars. Seal the jars and process in a water bath if you plan to store them, or keep the confiturra refrigerated for up to two months.