Now that I have a few months in the US as our bike tour season is over, and ski tours are a few months away, I have some time to devote to recipe development and my food blog. My travels in Italy provide so much inspiration, and I always arrive home with many dishes that I cannot wait to recreate in my own kitchen for family and friends.
In September, after the completion of our last bike tour, I met up with friends from home for a few days of exploring. My friend Ginny and I spent one night in Sirmione, on beautiful Lago di Garda. Sirmione located on the Sirmio peninsula that divides the lower part of Lake Garda. It lies in the Brescia province of Lombardia, but is surrounded by the province of Verona in the Veneto, so Sirmione is almost more ‘Veneto’ in flavor than Lombardia. A busy resort town, with thermal springs, the ancient Roman ruins of the Grotte di Catullo, and the medieval Scaliger Castle, as well as many shops, and great dining options.
After finally navigating our van through the narrow streets to our hotel and settling in, Ginny and I walked to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Seated on a quiet outdoor patio, we both started with delightful salads, mine with burrata cheese, and Ginny with goat cheese, prosciutto, fresh figs and a relish that she had never seen before – a mostarda. It worked wonderfully with the meat, cheese and figs. When all of us girls got together upon our return to the US, we cooked ourselves up a great Italy inspired meal, with this salad as our first course.
Mostarda in various forms appears all over Italy. It is an agrodolce relish (bitter sweet, or sweet and sour), most commonly made from fruit, fresh, dried or candied – quince, pears, apples, even grape must, and mixed with wine and mustard. La Cucina Italiana published a short informative article on the history of mostarda, which apparently was a favorite of Catherine de Medici, who included a jar in her dowry trunk when she travelled to France to marry the son of the King in 1533.
There are many different versions of mostarda, including a mostarda di cremona, di mantova, as well as versions from Tuscany. Mostarda from Verona is mae from vegetables, and recipe abound for versions made from pumpkin, squash, carrot and celery, pomegranate, figs, the list goes on. Mostarda Veneta is made from pureed quince and pears, with candied orange and citron.
Mostarda is customarily served in the fall, often paired with bollito misto, boiled meats. Once I made a batch, I found plenty of ways to use it – in addition to the salad recipe below, you could serve it with grilled or roasted chicken or pork, include it in an antipasti platter, serve it with some great cheeses, grill some radicchio and brush some on just before serving, or check out my next post, where I use it in an apple pie!
Feel free to adapt this to what you have on hand. I’ve made subsequent versions of this with quince jelly, fresh figs, dried figs, whatever fruit I happened to have on hand. I’ve seen recipes that called for red wine, but I find the end product is not the most attractive color, kind of a muted purple, so I recommend using white wine.
A Lugana white wine would be a perfect pairing for this salad – it was what Ginny and I shared during our lunch. The local DOC zone, this white is made from the Trebbiano di Lugana grape. Ottella makes a wonderful one, called Le Creete, and available here in the US.
Makes approximately 2 cups
1 unripe pear, cut into 1/4” pieces (peeled if you prefer)
1 apple, cut into 1/4” pieces (peeled if you prefer)
1/4 cup dried apricots or figs, cut into 1/4” pieces
1/4 cup craisins, chopped
1/4 cup candied orange piece, chopped
1/4 cup candied lemon pied, chopped
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups white wine
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook over low heat until softened and thick, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool.
This is better after sitting for a day or so to let the flavors blend.
Insalata di Formaggio di Capra, Prosciutto, Fichi Freschi e Mostarda
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 cups fresh salad greens
4 slices prosciutto
4 fresh figs, cut into quarters
1/2 cup mostarda
8 thin slices of bread, toasted
Extra virgin olive oil
Cut the goat cheese into 4 pieces, and warm slightly in the oven.
Divide the salad greens into four, and place on 4 salad plates in a small pile. Place one piece of the warm goat cheese onto each plate, and top with a slice of prosciutto.
Place about 2 tablespoons of mostarda onto each salad plate, and top with the four pieces of a whole fig. Place two pieces of bread on each plate.
Sprinkle with salt, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.