Mustard fruits (mostarda di frutta)
Mustard fruits are a condiment originating in the north of Italy that is served with poached meats or grilled poultry and game. Most commercially available mustard fruits are predominately citrus and candied whole, but this same method can be applied to singular fruits such as quince or pear. In fact, any fruit with a high pectin level is suitable.
At this point in the year, when some fruits are approaching their peak and some are past – cherries long done, figs at the end of their season and pears and quinces just coming on – I find that it’s best to dry the fruit first, thus having a level of control over the moisture content and seasonality.
Macerating the fruit in the warm syrup will either extract liquid from fresh or allow absorption for dry, therefore creating some form of equilibrium across the spectrum. Avoid the temptation to use frozen fruits because freezing denatures the structure, which makes the fruit break down more when heat is applied.
The beauty of the mustard fruit is the play between sweet and hot. The mustard heat is very different to chilli heat and more akin to horseradish or wasabi where its hit becomes more olfactory. It’s heat in the nostrils that you either love or hate. This plays into many different applications and although I have already mentioned its predominant use with meats, the first time I came across it was in a dish of ravioli filled with pumpkin and mustard fruits served with sage butter and ricotta.
For a more pungent mustard fruit you can add mustard oil, but do be wary as a lot of the cheaper varieties use a synthetic compound. There is a good cold-pressed Australian product I have found available at most health-food stores.
If you are making the preserve from a single fruit such as pear, this is the point where I tend to play with flavours a bit more by incorporating spices. Fragrant pepper such as Kampot or green peppercorns works really well, as does saffron.
This style of mustard fruit is also excellent to blend as a base for a dressing on salad leaves.
Time: 1 hour preparation and 1 hour cooking (spread over 5 days)
- 400g castor sugar
- 300ml water
- 200g dried figs
- 200g dried apricots
- 200g dried pear quarters
- 200g fresh cherries (or dried)
- 50g yellow mustard seeds
- 3 tsp mustard powder
- 6 bay leaves
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 100ml white wine
- Bring the sugar and water to the boil. Place the fruit in a bowl and pour the sugar water over it. Cover and let sit for 24 hours at a cool temperature but unrefrigerated.
- Cover the mustard seeds in cold water then bring to the boil in a small pot.
- Strain off the hot water and replace with cold water and repeat the process three times.
- Leave the mustard seeds to soak in water for the remainder of the preparation.
- The next day, strain the liquid off the fruit and add the rest of the ingredients to that liquid including the mustard seeds that have been drained of their cooking liquid.
- Bring this to the boil and reduce until the liquid becomes syrupy and then add the macerated fruit.
- Simmer on a low heat for five minutes without stirring so the fruit remains intact, then transfer to a preserving jar.
- Cover and cool and let macerate for 24 hours.
- Repeat this process of bringing back up to a simmer for five minutes then jarring again overnight three times before sealing back into a preserving jar. Then store for 48 hours before using.
- Once the jar has been opened for use, keep it refrigerated to preserve for months.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 2, 2022 as "Heat source".
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