Last week, looking over the dessert menu at Cantinetta in Seattle (@Cantinetta_Sea on Twitter), I came upon something new and intriguing–Marmaletta. The sound of the word alone made me want to order it.
If you head to Cantinetta soon, while Northwest field-grown rhubarb season is still in full swing, you may be lucky enough to score the Rhubarb Zeppole with Orange Rhubarb Marmaletta. (Spellings vary. So far I’ve seen Marmeletta, Marmaletta, and Marmellata.) One word of advice here: DO NOT offer to share this dessert with your table mates. The order consists of four zeppole, and you will want four more when you’ve eaten those.
But as good as the zeppole certainly are, it’s the Marmaletta that has taken up residence in my cranium. And what, pray tell, is Marmaletta (or Marmellata, which seems to be the most official of the various spellings)? Well, to be completely prosaic, it’s jam. Yup, jam. The best darned jam you’ve ever tasted.
Actually, that’s not quite right. Jam is usually thick, too thick for my liking. Marmellata should be loosely set. So perhaps it’s best to think of it as a kissing cousin to a fruit confiture, condiment, conserve, or compote. All of these are simply fruit stewed in sugar. But, oh, the magic that happens when fruit meets sugar meets heat in just the right combination.
I thought of calling Caninetta’s talented pastry chef, Lorna Stokes, and asking her for the recipe—perhaps proposing a blog post around her and it. But first, I hit the web and my cookbook library. Interestingly, I found very little. (It does appear, however, that a Marmellata can be sweet-tart or savory.)
One thing led to another, as the saying goes, and I soon found myself staring at a heap of glowing orange tangelos and crimson rhubarb on the kitchen counter. Taking a cue from Chef Jerry Traunfeld of Poppy in Seattle (author of The Herbfarm Cookbook), I soaked the tangelo slices in water overnight before cooking. This step allows the rind to soften and release its pectin into the water. It’s the natural fruit pectin, when combined with sugar, correct PH (acidic), and heating to 220° (the gel point) that cause the fruit mixture to set or gel. I knew I would need plenty of pectin because while citrus fruit contains an abundance of the substance, rhubarb contains hardly any at all. It is, after all, actually a vegetable. I was prepared to add powdered pectin if the Marmellata did not set sufficiently, but it wasn’t necessary.
I have no idea whether what I just created is anywhere close to the original inspiration, and I suspect that it has a distinctly different flavor, with more emphasis on the citrus component. Regardless, this Marmellata is so beautiful on the palate, so redolent of early spring, so completely satisfying, that I can’t wish for anything better.
Where oh where to get pretty canning jars? Weck has the market cornered in my estimation. The jars are absolutely elegant and yes, a bit pricey. Ball also has some pretty new options under the banner Collection Elite. I especially like the brushed silver, wide mouth, 1 cup jars. Sur La Table carries the lovely Bormioli Rocco line of Italian canning jars. For a few additional options, see Resources at the end of this post.
As it turns out, there is now a big hoopla about the traditional canning jars that we all know and love. Canning jar lids from Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin are coated with bisphenol A. If the lid comes in contact with the food inside the jar (duh!), it’s a potential health concern. BPA-free canning jars are produced by Weck and can be ordered online (pointer below). A lot of folks also swear by the old-fashioned wire top canning jars.
On another safety note, you will find fabulous recipes by some of the best cooks that do NOT call for a final boiling water bath. Jerry Traunfeld and Christine Ferber are among these esteemed cooks. In their recipes, that step is abandoned in favor of simply turning the filled jars upside-down on a clean towel. The FDA does NOT recommend this method, however. To be on the safe side, I always include a final boiling water bath of 5-10 minutes for preserves, jams, and jellies. Of course, if you intend to refrigerate your preserves and eat them within a few weeks, you can certainly skip this step.
Now that I have 5 jars of this delightful Italian marmalade, here are a few of the ways I intend to use it over the next few months:
- Serve over Maui Jim’s Cottage Cheese Pancakes.
- Slather on warm croissants or toast.
- Heap on top of cream cheese slathered, toasted bagels.
- Serve with fresh goat cheese, crostini, and a handful of ripe olives.
- Use to make a simple deglazing sauce.
- Serve over fresh ricotta, yogurt, panna cotta, cheesecake, or ice cream
- Use to make a sorbet.
- Serve alongside pound cake or financiers.
- Serve with zeppole, beignet, fritters, or donuts.
- Add to a turkey, ham, or pork sandwich.
- Serve alongside roasted pork tenderloin or chop.
- Swirl into a muffin batter.
- Serve with smoked salmon, cream cheese and crostini.
- Serve over cheese blintzes or crepes.
- Use to make an open-faced jam tart.
- Serve with a ginger soufflé.
And then there is my FAVORITE way:
- Eat with a tiny spoon right out of the jar.
I’m sure I’ll think of a few more ways before I run out of Marmellata. But for now, I’m off to look for my tiny spoon.
Rhubarb, Tangelo, & Cardamom Marmellata
This flavor combination is made in heaven. The Marmellata is intentionally on the softly set side so that it can be used as a sauce, as well as a jam. It’s so delicious that you will be tempted to slather it on everything.
4 large tangelos (or cara cara or blood oranges) (2 pounds)
2 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed of leaves and ends, sliced lengthwise, then sliced crosswise into ½-inch chunks (1 pound 8 ounces trimmed weight; about 6 cups chopped)
4 cups sugar
12 cardamom pods, pods removed, then ground in a mortar with pestle (2 teaspoons ground)
1-2 Serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced, optional
- Using a mandoline or thin slicing disk of a processor, slice the tangelos as thin as possible, preferably 1/16-inch thick.
- Stack the tangelo slices in a narrow pitcher or other container, picking out any seeds as you go, and cover with cold water. Seal the top of the container with plastic wrap and weight slices down with a heavy object to keep the top slices under water. Let soak for 12-24 hours.
- Remove tangelos from their soaking water and cut each slice into 8 equal wedges.
- Add the tangelo wedges and their soaking water to a large nonreactive (stainless steel) pot. Bring to a boil and boil for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the sugar, cardamom and optional chiles and continue boiling for 15-30 minutes, until the mixture reaches 220°, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the rhubarb and simmer for 5-8 minutes. The rhubarb should be softened but not falling apart. The mixture should be somewhat thickened but not overly so. It will thicken more after a few days.
- Sterilize your jars. Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. Carefully add five 1-cup capacity glass canning jars and boil for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the jars in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
- Sterilize your bands and rings. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, remove from the heat, wait a minute, and then add five jar bands and five new canning lids. Leave the bands and rings in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
- Using a jar lifter, remove one of the jars from the hot water and drain all water from it back into the pan. Set the jar upright on a clean towel. Ladle the hot Marmellata into the jar, filling to ¼-inch from the top. Use a damp paper towel to remove any Marmellata from the rim. Using the jar lifter again, remove a lid and band from the hot water. Set the lid on the jar and then screw the band firmly but not over tight. Fill and seal the remaining four jars in the same manner.
- Set the jars into a large pot fitted with a canning insert, if you have one. (I used my pasta pot with its perforated insert and arranged some clean towel strips to keep the jars from clanging into each other.) Cover by 2 inches with boiling water and bring back to a boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes. (Many folks say that 5 minutes is sufficient for safety, but 10 minutes is cited in the official directions of the major jar manufacturers.)
- Using a jar lifter, remove jars from the water bath and set on a clean towel. When cool, check the seals. If the jars are properly sealed, the center of the lid will NOT yield when you press it. Store these sealed jars in a cool, dry location for up to a year. If any jars do not seal, store them in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.
Makes about 5 cups.
Cooking & Recipes from Nonna’s Kitchen: Crostata di Marmellata
The Art of Food by Alisa Barry: Meyer Lemon Limoncello Marmellata
The Art of Food by Alisa Barry: Cipolle Piccoli Marmellata
Serious Eats by Caroline Russock: Pork Agnolotti with Tomato Marmellata and Crisp Pancetta
BlissTree by Marye Audet: Homemade Fruit Pectin for Jam and Jelly
Canning Jars by Charlotte: Canning Fruit Spreads: What is Pectin?
PickYourOwn.org: How to Make Homemade Jam Easily
Utne Reader by Keith Goetzman: Home Canning: Pickles, Peppers, and a Dash of BPA?
Utne Reader by Keith Goetzman: FDA Might Crack Down on Bisphenol A
Canning Across America
Consider the Pantry
Food in Jars
Hitchhiking to Heaven
If I Can, You Can
Prospect: The Pantry
Put a Lid on It
Put Up or Shut Up
Saving the Season
Tigress Can Jam
Tigress in a Jam
Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber by Christine Ferber
Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty