07 Apr The Mostarda
Appetite sharpens the imagination. How can we enjoy the fruits that are scarce in wintertime, all the way till Christmas? From the Middle Ages on, various ways have been developed to conserve food even before the invention of refrigerators. Nevertheless, I praise the Italians of the north for the invention of Mostarda.
The origin of the word comes from Latin: ‘mustum ardens’- must (non-fermented grape juice) that burns, because of the addition of mustard seeds. We shouldn’t confuse “mostarda” and “senape”; while both recipes utilize mustard seeds, they are substantially different. The original preparation dating from 1200 calls for the use of must, however, in the Italian tradition beginning in the XVI century, sugar was substituted for must to candy fruits and then mustard was added.
The result is a collection of coloured bits of fruit, sweet in taste, but very spicy, too. Cherries, pears, quinces, tangerines, figs, apricots and peaches are the main ingredients of the most well-known Mostarda di Cremona, but, from Voghera to Carpi (the Mostarda Carpigiana, considered to have the least rural origins, is cited in Alessandro Tassoni’s poem La Secchia Rapita in 1621), and from Vicenza to Mantova (where it is also used for the filling of their famous “Tortelli di Zucca”), there are lots of different variants of mostarda.
More recent but just as tasty recipes envisage using vegetables instead of fruit, and this “mostarda” is traditionally consumed with boiled meat or Gorgonzola or Stracchino cheese. In the areas of its origin, it’s a typical Christmas dish, just as it has been for centuries, but it’s now a tasty side dish for any season.