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In Italy, a common accompaniment to many savory meals is the subtly sweet condiment known as mostarda. Paired with meats and other foods, this accompaniment is made by softening fruit in a sweetening brine of sugar and orange juice that is also tinged with mustard oil or powder for a dominant kick. Kept in jars for about two weeks, the result is a slightly spicy, candied fruit salad used to complement mostly savory dishes.
Mostarda has been made for at least five centuries, according to La Cucina Italiana magazine, or The Italian Kitchen. It is included by noted Belgian chef Lancelot de Casteau in a 1604 Italian cookbook, called Ouverture de Cuisine, which is published online by the Medieval Cookery Web site. The magazine also attests that nearly a century earlier a jar of the condiment was with the famous Italian Catherine de’ Medici when she went in the early 16th century to marry a French prince who would eventually become King Henry II. This dish has evolved in Northern Italy to the point where many cities use their own unique ingredients.
Sometimes the fruit used for mostarda is one type, like pieces of pear, grapes or apples. More often though, it appears that chefs use a medley of fruits to give more diners a few of their favorites. The 1604 assortment includes an orange peel and the pear-like quince, chopped into small chunks. These are combined in a syrup made of sugar, mustard and even rose water for service.
The basic method has not changed much, unlike the ingredients. One recipe starts by washing and cutting any number of fruit into similarly sized chunks, with berries and grapes typically left intact. This is doused liberally with sugar and perhaps citrus zest, then submerged in a range of juices for an overnight bath in the refrigerator. The next day, the fruit is removed, the liquid is boiled, mustard oil or powder is added, and then the liquid is cooled again for another rest in the refrigerator. Once the liquid is properly spiced and sweet, it is poured to the top of jars packed tightly with fruit salad. These sealed containers are put away in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks.
According to LA Times magazine food critic Sarah Taylor, this dish goes well with several types of other foods. The richer cuts of braised or roasted red meats are well-suited for the sweet and mustard-tinged mostarda. Another food that is equally amenable to the treatment, Taylor states, is cheeses. La Cucina Italiana adds pasta, fish and poultry to that list of popular pairings, with service most popular in the fall as part of a boiled roast dish called bollito misto.