TomatoMania: Sicilian Style Tomato Jam- Spicy, Sweet and Savory

TomatoMania is winding down here at SippitySup. I still have one last contest winning entry to make and I know Scott has a few parting thoughts. But those will have to wait for another Monday. Because the funny thing about the end of the tomato-growing season is this. There are still soooo many tomatoes to love. This is when we start canning, preserving and freezing our crop. I am still trying to come up with ideas to use up a lot of our great garden tomatoes with out really wasting their bounty.

Tomato Jam

Sauces are always a good idea. Especially if you have the time and inclination towards canning. Sauces, well put up, will last practically forever in a properly processed jar.

While I am not here today to discourage you from hanging onto the last of your tomatoes in these traditional methods, I am here to say, why not try something a bit different this year?

old epicurean travel guide to ItalyI am talking about jam. Tomato Jam. Cherry Tomato Jam!

Sweet jam, savory jam– spicy jam. This jam has it all.

It is one of the most delicious things I have ever made. I swear…

I have been a bit of a Sicily kick lately. I am reading about Sicilian food, wine, and culture. It started with a Pesto Trapanese recipe I did last week.

I was reading up on some of the classic dishes of Sicily in a book from 1958 called Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy. It was published by Gourmet Distributing Corporation, the company that was (is?) responsible for Gourmet Magazine and is a very great time capsule for pre-globalization Italian fare.

cherry tomato harvetsI read a reference in this book to a Sicilian style tomato jam made with cherry tomatoes. The jam was sweet and savory. Because of Sicily’s importance to the ancient trade routes, it seems this jam was heavily influenced by the exotic spices that came and went through the Sicilian ports. That very much intrigued me. But this is not a traditional cookbook, more of an epicurean traveler’s journal, so there was no recipe for this jam.

Soon after I spent some time at a friend’s house in San Diego. She is growing bushels of cherry tomatoes, including the wildly popular Sungold. The Sungold is a small round orange cherry tomato (cherries don’t have to be red). It is very sweet. So sweet that it is very difficult to cook with in my opinion. Gorgeous, sweet little tomato gems like this are best eaten raw, while still warm from the sun (also, my opinion).

san diego patio with tomato jamHowever, my friend had so many of these tomatoes that it would be impossible to simply eat them all raw. Really, I mean it– impossible! So I just had to help her out. Nobody should be burdened with more tomatoes than they can eat. That’s just cruel.

So in remembering that 1950s reference to Sicilian jam I decided to get on the Internet and start searching. I started with Lidia Bastianich. When it comes to Sicily and Puglia, I trust her. She seems to know things about these areas that other chefs simply can’t touch. But I could not find a word out of her on the subject. Same for Mario Batali, and Marcella Hazen.

So I broadened my search. I started to get plenty of methods to preserve tomatoes. Green tomatoes, red tomatoes, even some super (sickly) sweet recipes that certainly seemed like jams to me, but were neither savory nor exotic.

I also began to find a few recipes for something called Sicilian Tomato Jam. I seemed like I was getting close, but these recipes felt a little predictable to me. Tomatoes, sugar, lemon, and basil. Am I yawning? I know 1958 was a long time ago, but I find it hard to believe that any food writer of any generation would find those ingredients exotic. Heck, I would not even call them spices.

Then, type, type, click, click. Bling. Bling! I find myself at Bitten, Mark Bittman’s blog for the New York Times. Of course! Why didn’t I just start with him? I am always forgetting that if it interests me, Mark has already done it. Every single time!

His recipe has all the exotic ingredients I was looking for. He gives it a Spanish provenance. Coastal Spain. Perhaps a part of those ancient trade routes that so heavily influenced Sicilian cooking? Perhaps.

Well, right or wrong I have decided this is exactly the jam my food traveler from Italian Bouquet had come across in his1958 epicurean tour. It just had to be!

So I looked through Mark’s recipe. It would need a small amount of adapting. Right off the bat, I changed the tomatoes from Roma to Cherry. That’s just so Sicilian! I could also see that I was going to be doubling the amounts of many of these spices. I was going for exotic. Also, he used jalapeno, which I found exciting. But in the end, I decided that jalapeno gave the recipe too much of a Spanish flair. So, in keeping with my theme of exotic spice traders stopping off in Trapani in 17th century Sicily, I changed the absolutely mandatory element of heat from jalapeno to cayenne. A fairly hefty amount too.

My changes may completely alter the tone of Mark’s recipe. He was reaching towards a Spanish tapas version; like the one that inspired him in Barcelona. But I hope he will forgive me, because my version– I can’t help but feel, is exactly what I was seeking!

I am serving it with goat cheese and baguette slices. I swear it almost tastes like cheese cake… the good kind.

Sicilian Style Tomato Jam with Goat Cheese makes about 2 pints.


  • 3 pounds ripe, super sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3‑tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1‑tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2‑teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4‑teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1‑teaspoon salt
  • 1/2‑teaspoon cayenne, or to taste.
  • Goat cheese and baguette slices for serving

tomato jam with goat cheese1.    If you are a maniac you may peel the tomatoes by blanching them a moment, then plunging them in an ice-bath. The peels will slip off easily. But this step is not mandatory, though it will improve the texture.
2.    Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring the pot often.
3.    Once it boils, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally. You may break up some of the tomatoes as you work with the back of your spoon. Eventually, the mixture will attain the consistency of thick jam. This takes about 1 1/2 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning, you may need more lemon juice and salt to balance all that sugar.  Cool the jam and refrigerate it until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Alternatively, you may save this jam almost indefinitely if you jar it using a proper canning method.


Greg Henry