Step-by-Step: How to Make Spicy Italian Mostarda

  • 01 of 10

    What is mostarda?

    Mostarda from Cremona with a plate of salame
    Mostarda from Cremona with a plate of salame. Anna Mockford/Getty Images

    Though the Italian mostarda does contain mustard, it's only distantly related to the yellow stuff in the squeeze bottle.

    Rather, it's fruit preserved in syrup that gains quite a kick from a healthy jolt of powdered mustard seed or mustard oil, and it's one of the standard condiments served with boiled meats in Northern Italy (bollito misto). Today it's also often served as an accompaniment to cheeses or charcuterie. 

    Though you'll find it from Piemonte on through the Veneto and down into Emilia-Romagna, the best-known mostarda is that from the Lombardy town of Cremona, made with whole fruits that acquire a voluptuous firmness during the preparation.

    It has an unusual flavor: somewhat sweet, because the fruit is candied in sugar syrup, but with a powerful, pungent kick from the mustard. It is spicy in the way that wasabi and horseradish are spicy: a sort of intense burning in the sinuses. 

    Mostarda is quite easy to make, and it also makes an excellent gift.

    You'll need:

    • 2 1/2 pounds (1 kg) assorted fruit (apples, pears, peaches, grapes, oranges, etc. -- more suggestions on the next page)
    • 1-1/2 pounds (500-700 grams) granulated sugar
    • the juice of 1 orange
    • Mustard oil, or mustard powder (such as Colman's) and white wine
    • Canning jars

    [Edited by Danette St. Onge]

    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    A Few Words On Mostarda And The Fruit Involved

    Weigh the Fruit
    Weigh the Fruit.

    There are many regional variations on Mostarda in Northern Italy; some derive their sweetness from concentrated grape must, and are opaque. What we are making here, instead, derives its sweetness from sugar, and is translucent.

    The best-known mostarda in Italy is Mostarda di Cremona, which is made with a mixture of peeled, cored fruit: apricots, peaches, kiwis (a recent addition), Bartlett pears, small apples, tangerines, cherries, quinces, figs, and so on. If the fruit is small, the presentation is much nicer if you leave the fruit whole (but peeled, with seeds and stems removed), or at the most cut in half lengthwise. If you use larger fruit, cut it up as necessary.

    Also, feel free to use other combinations. In Mantova, they use peeled, sliced, and cored quinces, and I have had mostarda made with everything from green tomatoes to finely sliced watermelon rind.

    Here, among other things, I included apples, pears, kiwi, mango, strawberries, tangerines, cherries, and orange sections. Total weight: 4.5 pounds, or 2 kg.

    Continue to 3 of 10 below.
  • 03 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Add the Sugar

    Add the Sugar
    Add the Sugar.

    When you have finished preparing your fruit, weigh it, and add the sugar. Figure at 1/2 pound of sugar per 1 pound of fruit; you can increase the amount if the fruit is not too sweet, or you want a sweeter mostarda. After adding the sugar, pour the juice of 1 orange over it.

    Continue to 4 of 10 below.
  • 04 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Let it Rest

    After 24 Hours
    After 24 Hours.

    Let the fruit rest for 24 hours, gently turning the pieces a couple of times. Purists leave the bowl uncovered throughout, but you may want to partially cover it with a clean kitchen towel. 

    The next day, the sugar will be completely dissolved.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Concentrate the Syrup

    Boil Down the Syrup
    Boil Down the Syrup.

    Set a colander in a pot and empty the bowl of fruit into it. Drain the fruit well and return it to the bowl. Heat the drained syrup over medium heat. Reduce the heat when it comes to a boil, and continue simmering it until its volume is reduced by half. Skim the foam from the surface with a slotted spoon or strainer, and pour the syrup back over the fruit.

    Some thoughts about color: In commercially prepared Mostarda di Cremona, the syrup is invariably colorless and crystal-clear, regardless of the fruit that goes into it. This is in part because some of the coloring substances are in the skins, which are removed, and in part because they are careful not to overheat and thus caramelize the sugar.

    Continue to 6 of 10 below.
  • 06 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Wait Another 24 Hours

    After Another 24 Hours
    After Another 24 Hours.

    The sugar in the concentrated syrup will extract more moisture from the fruit, which will begin to firm up.

    Drain and concentrate the syrup a second time and steep the fruit in it overnight again. You are now ready to flavor your mostarda, and you have two options:

    - Mustard oil

    - Powdered mustard

    In either case, you will also need sterilized jars at this point, if you plan to can your mostarda for future use.

    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Using Mustard Oil

    Add 10-15 Drops of Mustard Oil
    Add 10-15 Drops of Mustard Oil.

    Commercially prepared Mostarda gets its kick from mustard oil, which is clear and thus doesn't cloud the syrup. 

    Drain the fruit into a pot again, and remove about a shot glass's worth of syrup from the pot. Set the pot to heating, and in the meantime carefully add 10-15 drops of mustard oil to the syrup in the shot glass.

    If you get some mustard oil on your skin, wash it off immediately with warm soapy water as it is a powerful irritant.

    Continue to 8 of 10 below.
  • 08 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Using Powdered Mustard Seed

    Dissolve Powdered Mustard in Wine
    Dissolve Powdered Mustard in Wine.

    Most recipes for mostarda call for powdered mustard seed, which is much easier to find than mustard oil, and also much safer to work with. You'll need a 2-ounce (50 gram) tin.

    Dissolve it in 1 cup of white wine in a small pot, and gently heat the mixture over low heat. Stir occasionally, and let the mixture bubble for a few minutes.

    While you are preparing the infusion, drain the fruit and concentrate the syrup once again.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Put the Fruit in the Jars

    Fill the Jars with Fruit
    Fill the Jars with Fruit.

    While the syrup is concentrating for the 4th time, sterilize your jars in boiling water, and then fill them with the fruit. Don't be surprised at how much the fruit has compacted; I started out with 4 1/2 pounds (2 kg) of fruit, all of which finally fit into two 1-pint (500 ml) jars. So using the measurements given in this step-by-step should yield one 1-pint jar of mostarda.

    After adding the fruit, if you are using mustard oil, pour it in, and then add hot concentrated syrup to cover, tapping the jar repeatedly to dislodge air bubbles as you fill.

    If you are instead using powdered mustard, add the infusion and then the hot syrup to cover, tapping jar to dislodge air bubbles as you fill.

    Note: If you use all of the infusion the mostarda will be quite strong. I like it that way, but feel free to make your first batch a little less strong if you like.

    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    Making Mostarda: Fill to Cover, and Seal

    Add Syrup, and Seal
    Add Syrup, and Seal.

    Cover the jars, seal them, wipe them clean, and store them in a cool, dark place. The mostarda will be ready in two weeks' time.

    There's no need to sterilize the mostarda; the sugar concentration is high enough that it will inhibit bacterial activity.