Long Reads

Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon

October 27, 2011

Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: New life for the herbs and greens that linger in the crisper, thanks to Paula Wolfert (and Food52er fiveandspice).

Herb Jam

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- Kristen

Bundles of herbs -- the very things that bring life and color to so many recipes -- are too often the victims of crisper drawer abandonment. A week after that bánh mì or minestrone we were so excited about, we unearth the remains, wilted and weeping, entombed in their own plastic baggy coffins. So we throw them away, faces all squinched up. And we hate ourselves, and sulk about missed opportunity.

There is a way to treat them a little better, and ease this self-loathing. You can store them something like a bouquet of flowers: upright in a jar in the fridge, tips dangling into fresh water, and tops protected by a plastic bag secured by a rubber band around the jar -- a trick for keeping them hydrated that I learned from a family friend and wonderful cook known to all as Jagu. If you remember to change out the water every few days, your herbs will last for a freakishly long time.

But I usually don't remember to do this. And even when I do -- those herbs can't defy their fate forever.

Paula Wolfert  herbs

Our friend fiveandspice tipped me off to the solution, and it's an herb jam by Paula Wolfert (pictured above). "It's completely changed the way I think about cilantro and parsley," fiveandspice says. "I used to never want to get a bunch of either for a recipe that called for just a tablespoon or two for garnish -- which is many recipes. I never waste any, anymore!"

In Wolfert's book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, she smartly adapts a traditional Moroccan spread (typically made with a native green called baqqula) to the modern kitchen (note that you can still use either a heavy-bottomed skillet or a "medium cazuela set over a flame-tamer" -- I'll leave that up to you.)

In a couple of nifty strokes of genius, Wolfert transforms your sad-looking herbs and greens into a spunky new animal. It doesn't matter if they're starting to lose their edge, that their garnishing days are over -- because you're about to cook the daylights out of them (see a full slideshow of the proceedings on the recipe page here).

steaming greenssteamed greens

First you gather up all your orphaned semi-bunches of herbs -- Wolfert has a specific cocktail of parsley, cilantro and celery leaves, but fiveandspice says she uses whatever she has on hand that needs using up. Throw in a whole lot of spinach or chard (or other not-too-sturdy greens). My favorite step: you tuck a few cloves of garlic in there to steam with the gang, then pull them out and mash them with a fork for the next stage.

You'll wring your herbs and greens dry and chop them, then bring them back to life, by sauteing them with smoked paprika, cumin, cayenne, oil-cured olives, and that garlic, smashing it all around until it turns into a heady, delicious jam. Fresh lemon juice and olive oil perk it up at the end. It's rich and voluptuous, and surprisingly meaty for something with this much green packed into it (Can you hear me vegans? This one's for you!).

Herb Jam  The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

This jam isn't here to win beauty pageants -- it's glorified mulch, really. If this concerns you, serve it in your prettiest little bowl, with dainty crackers. Ours looked like doilies and were very good. Pull out a butter knife from your finest silver and polish it up, if that's what it takes.

Just don't let the jam's scraggly appearance keep you from its charms. Imagine what your relationship with your fridge could be, if instead of the unfortunate discoveries lurking in the corner of the crisper drawer, you always had a wee pot of this to greet you.

Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon

Adapted slightly from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen (Wiley, 2003)

Serves 6; Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 4 large garlic cloves, halved
  • 1 pound baby spinach leaves
    1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems discarded
    1/2 cup celery leaves, coarsely chopped
    1/2 cup cilantro leaves, stemmed
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    12 oil-cured black olives, pitted, rinsed, coarsely chopped
    1 1/4 teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika (pimenton de la Vera)
    Pinch of cayenne
    Pinch of ground cumin
    1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
    Salt and freshly ground pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more genius? Try Martha Stewart's perfectly creamy baked Macaroni and Cheese.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


gluttonforlife November 6, 2011
Great idea! Sort of a cooked pistou, in a way, which makes me think an anchovy or two would not go amiss.
Alice_ November 2, 2011
Here in Sonoma, where summers can be hot, this type of recipe is a godsend not only for fridge clean-out but for fast garden clean-out, when everything seems to start bolting all at once : parsley, basil, cilantro, arugula, the tail end of spring greens . I always thought of it as a kind of pesto, and usually grind it up with a few roasted nuts, lemon or some acid like homemade Worcestershire (thank you Amanda), some kind of pepper or other(try paprika mixed with cayenne). It also freezes perfectly, in tiny amounts. This jam extends that idea infinitely.....Paula's recipes always change my life!
(PS Our much-beloved Paula lives in Sonoma, too, how lucky is that?)
luvcookbooks November 1, 2011
Thanks, Kris10 and 5&S!!
tbrozman October 31, 2011
Love it. And funny enough, Herb Jam was the name of my band in college!
AppleAnnie October 30, 2011
I'd like to try this as a layer in a sandwich with goat cheese and cooked beets.
Dot1 October 30, 2011
Kristen - I'm thinking this would make great christmas gifts! If I put this in jars - and ship them away - how long will it last???
Kristen M. October 31, 2011
Hi Dot1 -- Paula Wolfert recommends storing the jam in the fridge and just thinning it with olive oil or water (and fresh lemon juice to taste) when you're ready to serve -- I don't think it would hold up very well if exposed to warmer temperatures for long. And because it's not very acidic, I don't think it would be safe to can either. So unfortunately, I don't think it would make the best gift to ship, unless you want to go to the trouble (and expense) of shipping it quickly on dry ice. An in-person gift would be the way to go!
Dot1 October 30, 2011
Kristen - I'm thinking this would make great christmas gifts! If I put this in jars - and ship them away - how long will it last???
Brette W. October 28, 2011
Damn, those are some sexy crackers.
Brette W. October 28, 2011
Can't wait to make this with all the sad herbs in my fridge!
Greenstuff October 27, 2011
Here's where you and fiveandspice are geniuses (and I'm not). Although I've made Paula Wolfert's herb jam repeatedly, I had never once thought of making it my standard way of using up herbs that were otherwise headed for the stockpot. Doh!
fiveandspice October 27, 2011
Ha! Love it! I'm actually making some herb jam tonight with some sad parsley I need to use up!
creamtea October 27, 2011
Nice! I'm a Paula Wolfert fan. Thanks Kiriten and 5&S
Kitchen B. October 27, 2011
Oh yes. Sad has defined me many a day when emptying out the crisper drawer. Thanks Kristen, thanks fiveandspice.
EmilyC October 27, 2011
Oh -- I adore this recipe -- it's one of my go-to appetizers for guests! Great choice Kristen and fiveandspice! The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen is one my favorite cookbooks, and this herb jam pairs beautifully with the small semolina griddle breads found in the same book.