The Italians developed the condiment mostarda as a way to enhance grilled meats. This sweet and sour conserve lives at the intersection of a dried fruit compote and an agrodolce, with mustard seed as the predominant spice. Mostardas can be made with any number of fruits and vegetables, and once you start experimenting with the basic formula, you can easily get addicted. In summer, make your mostardas with stone fruit. In winter, use everything from butternut squash to fennel. A combination of dried and fresh fruit with onion, vinegar, sugar, and mustard seed makes for a condiment that’s really special.
We’re coming off of apple season, when many of us were awash not just in the fresh fruit, but also applesauce, apple butter, and pies galore. But I think apples sometimes shine best when paired with salty or savory dishes. Think pork chops and applesauce. This apple mostarda is a favorite of mine. It takes advantage of an ingredient that has hit the olive bars with a vengeance: the sweety drop pepper. These tiny whole red peppers are usually lightly pickled and provide pops of fresh vegetal depth. Plus, the color stays vibrant even in the cooking, so they look fantastic. If you can’t source them, you can swap out diced red bell pepper or, if you like some heat, some cherry peppers.
You usually stir in a little mustard at the end, and I used Savora, a wonderful French mustard-based schmear that I fell in love with abroad and which you can finally source stateside through Amazon. It contains a lot of spices that are mostarda-friendly and I happened to have a jar open. But regular dijon works fine. Ditto calvados, which ups the apple flavor, though grappa is traditional. White wine is also good, and if you want it alcohol-free, you can use apple cider or juice.
This condiment works particularly well with grilled and roasted meats, so it is wonderful for fall and winter cooking. And if you are someone with some canning skills, it can be jarred and preserved for holiday gift giving.
Makes about 2 cups
- 2 large firm, tart apples, Fuji or similar
- 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup diced shallot or onion
- 1/2 cup sweety drop peppers (or chopped sweet red bell pepper)
- 2 Tbsp. Calvados (or grappa)
- 1/2 cup dried cherries (or golden raisins)
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
- 2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp. Savora or Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Peel and dice your apples into quarter-inch dice and place in a large bowl with the vinegar and sugar, and toss to coat so that the apples don’t brown. Grate the zest of your lemon on the large side of a box grater; you don’t want fine microplane fluff here, you want larger pieces of zest. You can also remove the zest in strips and julienne. Mix the lemon zest, shallot, and sweety drop peppers into the apples and set aside.
Mix the dried cherries with the hot water and calvados and set aside.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat till shimmering. Add the mustard seeds and listen for the popping to start. Add the turmeric and red pepper flakes and stir to bloom the spices, then stir in the apple mixture and the cherries in their liquid. Add the salt and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated and the apples are tender but not mushy. Stir in the Savora and butter and continue to simmer for another five minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before transferring to clean jars. Store in the fridge for up to a week.
If you are experienced in canning, feel free to process jars of this mostarda the way you would process a jam. This recipe can be multiplied up as needed if you want to make larger batches for gift giving.