Mostarda is a distinctive fruit conserve that mixes the intense spice of mustard with the sweet flavors of candied fruit. Over the centuries the agrodolce flavor characteristic of mostarda has taken on countless variations. By the 19th century there were many cities with their own versions, and the varieties of mostarda made in Cremona became widely regarded as the most special because of the complexity of their ingredients.
The word mostarda is traced to the Latin word ardens, or ardente in Italian. Ardente means burning, and it refers to the spice of the white mustard flour that was once added to the unfermented grape must, or mustum, to make mustum ardens. In French, this spicy conserve was called moût ardent, which then became moutarde, and was translated into Italian as mostarda. While its name may come from French, mostarda is entirely an Italian specialty, and like most of the country’s recipes, there are several regional versions of this preserve.
In Lombardy, the mostarda of Mantova is prepared with sliced quince, apple or local pear, and in the nearby town of Viadana, a spicier version is made with passacrassana pears, a winter variety with dense flesh. Puréed quince and pears, mixed with candied orange and citron peel, characterize most mostarda from the Veneto region, except for that from Verona, which calls for vegetables. Grape must is still used in some recipes from Emilia-Romagna, where it is mixed with quince, pear and prune.
According to tradition, mostarda is served in the fall, paired with bollito misto, Italian boiled meats. Today, mostarda is not limited to a single season and complements a wide range of foods. For the mostarda of Cremona, each fruit has its own dish: fig mostarda is served with herbed cheese and salumi; clementine mostarda with roast meats and fresh cheeses; while tome cheese, prosciutto cotto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are all ideal pairs for mostarda with pumpkin. With pear mostarda, serve Parmigiano-Reggiano and Felino salame, and for melon, serve culatello and fresh cow’s milk cheeses. The mostarda of Mantova, a fundamental ingredient in the local tortelli, is great with boiled white meat and medium-aged cheeses.
Mostarda is difficult to find in this country but easy enough to make at home if you are looking for authentic flavors that are bright and pure. Serve a small bowl of this citrus-flavored recipe alongside fresh cheeses, or pair it with roasted meats. The preserve's sweet and sour flavors also play well with fish and shellfish.
I personally love pear mostarda paired with Roquefort or Stilton and I will try to find a good recipe to post in the future.
If you like the idea but don't want to go through the (slight) trouble of making it, you can buy Mostarda di Cremona and Mostarda di Milano through Amazon.com, although I can guarantee it just won't be the same!
La Mostarda Di Agrumi
Makes 3 cups
4 navel oranges
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) acacia honey
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut off a 1/2-inch slice from top and bottom of each orange to expose fruit, then score orange peel from top to bottom at 1/4-inch intervals, cutting through pith, with a sharp knife. Pull off each strip of peel, including pith, with your fingers. (Reserve fruit for another use.) Repeat with lemons. Cut peels in half widthwise.
Fill a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan with 4 cups water; bring water to boil. Add citrus peels, return water to boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain peels and run under cold water to cool. Pat dry with paper towel.
Combine honey and 1/2 cup cold water in a large saucepan; bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Add peels, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Return mixture to simmer and cook until peels are semi-translucent and honey syrup is reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 25 minutes more.
Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl; drain peels, reserving honey syrup. Transfer peels to prepared baking sheet and cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine sugar, 1 cup cold water and lemon juice; bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is clear and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add rosemary sprigs; let syrup cool for 10 minutes, then remove and discard sprigs. Whisk in reserved honey syrup.
In a small saucepan, whisk together mustard and wine. Set over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add mustard mixture to syrup mixture and whisk well to combine.
Transfer peels to a 4-cup heatproof glass jar with a lid. Pour syrup over peels (discard any remaining syrup), seal jar and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 10 days
Information recipe and photo from La Cucina Italiana