Mostarda di #Allotment

Glistening in righteous expensiveness in the upper-crust supermarkets, lives Mostarda di Cremona. What we can buy, while still the genuine article, is the lower end of the range. It’s a strange substance, candied fruit preserved  in a mustard syrup. The Real Thing is split by region (there are many Mostardas) and also by specified fruit. You’d choose the one to go with your cheese or cold meat, like we would make a choice between quince or cranberry or mint jelly. It’s as much texture as flavour, some are chopped small and are more like an old English chutney, but I like the ones that look like a box of Newberry Fruits tipped into a bottle of glycerine.

When we were making Courgette and Pineapple jam, I loved the crispness of the courgette pieces in among the clear syrup, and I thought then that I’d have a go at a Courgette Cremona. Starting to research recipes, I discovered what my main problem would be. Authentic Mostardas are flavoured with mustard essential oil, which you can get in Italy but not here. There were compromise versions with dry mustard powder dissolved into the liquid, or spice bags filled with mustard seed boiled up with the fruit, but I was stomping my Ickle Foot of Tantrum. Why can’t I get it here? My Indian cookery books all talk about mustard oil with gay abandon, surely I could find it in Sheffield.

And I did, sort of. Mustard oil IS sold in Indian shops, in with the almond oil and hair tonics. It has “For External Use Only” written on the labels in bright red letters. Apparently under EU regulations it can’t be sold as a foodstuff, as it has a high amount of erucic acid. But they haven’t put anything in it to make it unusable, just a label saying Ooooh, Aren’t You Naughty. There’s a wonderfully tactful explanation on the Spices of India website. I wasn’t sure what the mustardy strength of my massage oil/hair tonic would be compared to this mythical Italian essential oil, so we took it slowly and tasted as we went.

Following the original jam recipe, I put 2 lbs of peeled and degorged courgettes, green and yellow, into a bowl and added about 1.5 lbs of caster sugar. I’d found that to be incredibly sweet when I made it before, so this time I added 2 fl oz lime juice as well. Stirred it up well, and left it overnight. The sugar brings out the juice, crisping up the courgette and also making a clear syrup. The idea is that now you boil the mixture, and it turns into jam. I wanted to stop partway through that process, while there was still plenty of liquid. It took a while to get there, but eventually I had some nicely candied courgette in hot syrup. I added a small tub of glace cherries (rinsed), 4 oz diced peel (not the regular industrial mixed peel, some candied citron, orange and lemon peel strips cut to the same size as the courgette), and simmered that for just a few minutes to meld it all in.

Now came the tricksy bit. The one thing I did know about mustard oil from my reading is that it is pungent in the bottle, but loses that and becomes sweet when you heat it. Fair play, regular made-up mustard does that too. So I didn’t want to heat it too much when mixing it in with the syrup, but I did want to get it emulsified before anything started to caramelise.

I waited until the syrup was warm enough to stick a finger into, and added 1 fl oz mustard oil. It tasted fine, sweet and slightly warming, but not anywhere near a full mustard hit. The mixture didn’t separate, though. Let it cool down a bit more, taste again, add some more oil. Over the course of a couple of hours I added 4 fl oz in total. The syrup is tangy rather than hot, certainly not piccalilli strength. It made a 1-litre jarful, and it looks beautiful. The light colours of the courgettes are set off by the deeper yellows and oranges of the peel, and the scattered bright red of the cherries. I was concerned that the syrup and oil would separate when it cooled thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem to have yet. Which means the mustard oil is slowly finding its way into the fruit …

The traditional Italian time to eat Mostardas is autumn, but I think for UK versions it’ll be Christmas. With ham, with Wensleydale, with cold turkey. Glazing a ham with it, even, or studding the top of a terrine – decorating the top of a warm whole Camembert.

We have a lot of butternut squash coming off the allotment, and I am tempted now to try a cross between candied pumpkin and a mostarda, but using the dry powder variant to see if I can get it stronger.

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Preserved Courgettes

So far we’ve got three different kinds of preserved courgettes.

Courgette and Pineapple Jam – yellow courgettes, seeded, peeled and cut up small. Set aside overnight dredged with sugar. It makes a syrup, and next day you boil it up with added tinned pineapple and a bit of lemon juice to help the set. It was very very sweet, I’ve added some lime juice. The fruit is almost crystallised and the jam is very clear. I’m wondering if putting in more glace-type fruit and citrus peel, and adding mustard might make something interesting in the cremona line.

Marrow Mangoes – we did the giant courgette soaked in vinegar and stuffed with spices for 10 days, straining and boiling every day. Now they’re sliced, and bottled with some of the vinegar boiled up with sugar. They’re supposed to sit now for three months.

Courgette Chutney – there was some vinegar left over from the “mangoes”. It went in a pan with some white and some brown sugar, 3 large yellow courgettes, one red and one white onion, two large cored cooking apples, and a handful of sultanas. Fruit and veg chopped fairly small, courgettes and apple unpeeled. The vinegar was sharp rather than warmly spiced – it had sat with fresh ginger, onion and horseradish in it – so I didn’t add spice, but did put in some peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (a fat piece about 3 inches long) and a good sprinkle of salt. It took a few hours to cook down – I started with a small amount of sugar and added more as we went along until it was the right sweetness and thickening well. It’s got a right punch, which I suspect will only increase as it matures. It’ll make great cheese sandwiches.

Bloody Courgettes

Yeah yeah yeah, I KNOW. But we only planted a few, although probably a few more than we thought we’d want in case of early death. And the little young ones were delicious, and we treated them with reverential care.

Now? Buggrit millenium hand and shrimp.

It didn’t help that J went away for a couple of weeks, and I Was Not As Assiduous in Allotmenting As I Might Have Been. My Bad. So now we have marrow-sized courgettes, and new ones coming all the time. We’ve had them every day in some form or another, and I’m fishing now for ever more exotic ideas.

Lifesavers have been:

Riverford Organics (who were our veggie box people until we got the allotment, and deserve splendiferous praise) maintain a recipe section on their website which is wonderful for me – it features new recipes for seasonal produce, a “what to do with the last … in the box” feature, and general hints and tips on dealing with fruit and veg. Currently on the stove is their Mexican One-Pot Courgettes, ready to be re-heated tomorrow with some pulled pork and cheese quesadillas. And there’s enough for another go-round later, as part of a Mexican feast along with some pork crackling and guacamole. I’m also thinking of offloading some of their bbq recipes at a birthday party this weekend.

The Penguin Book of Jam, Pickles and Chutneys by David and Rose Mabey. I’ve just nearly had a heart attack looking at where you could get a copy of this online, and you’re looking at a minimum of £40, even on Ebay. I feel I should point out that other books by the same authors are available. Jeez. I had a copy years and years ago, it vanished somewhere, and I found a very battered one for £1.99 in Oxfam last summer. It’s a slim little paperback, but it’s packed with shedloads of information, and excellent recipes. I’ve just potted up their bramble jelly, and used the pulp for a bramble cheese to go with the Wensleydale at Christmas. For courgettes, I’ve started this very evening a thing called “marrow mangoes”. You peel a giant courgette, cut in half lengthways and deseed it. Then you stuff the insides with onions, ginger, spices etc, tie it back together and steep it in vinegar for a week or so. Take it out, cut it open, chop the marrow and bottle it with a hot syrup made with the steeping vinegar. Won’t be able to report on success with this one until Christmas when it will be just ready. I’m also tempted by their marrow and pineapple jam, which looks easy and cheap for something quite unusual.

As usual the Dr Gourmet website has a twist, this time in the form of Zucchini Pizza Crust, which I am saving for the final stretch. Literally a giant disk of grated courgette held together with the minimum of egg and flour, baked until set and crisp and then baked again with pizza toppings.

I’ve started doing a thing I call a Roast Traybake – putting a variety of veg and some small joints of meat (chicken thighs, pork or lamb chops) in a shallow tray, drizzling with oil and appropriate seasonings, and bunging it in at Gas Mark 4 for an hour or so. “Appropriate seasonings” have include a paste of garlic, lemon juice and tarragon (with some chicken); cumin, coriander and oregano with some tomatoes and pork; mustard seeds, fenugreek and ginger with some lamb. Courgettes always feature – in lumps or slices – but we’ve also had peppers, carrots, big runner beans, tomatoes, and onion wedges. Beetroot and turnips will be joining in soon as we start harvesting them.

Hiding shredded or grated courgettes in things is also useful. I don’t bake, usually, but even I am contemplating muffins or cakes based on carrot or beetroot recipes, with added or substituted courgette. Having watched the bread episode of the British Bakeoff, though, I know to make sure it’s well dried before it goes in, or a soggy mess is the most likely result. I’ve been adding them to green salads, sandwiches / wraps, or yoghourt / hummus sort of things for dips and dressings.

John is back from The Allotment with a new batch, and assures me that while the green ones have gone into remission, the yellow ones are coming into their own. Aaaaaargh.

Chilled Summer Soup

It says summer, but this might make a good lunch for a stuffy overheated office in winter. Another Waitrose card, serves 6, 224 cals per.

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 250 gms courgettes, sliced
  • 250 gms peas
  • 750 mls hot stock, chicken or veggie
  • 20 gm pack fresh mint
  • 500g tub greek yoghourt

Melt the butter and add garlic, onion and rosemary. Cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, stir in courgettes. Cook for 5 more minutes, until courgette is starting to soften but not colour.

Add peas, and stock. Boil and simmer for 10 minutes until courgette is tender. Cool, and discard rosemary.

Blend soup with mint and yoghourt. Season to taste and chill.

(They suggest Fudges Mature Cheddar and Black Pepper flatbreads to serve, but if you needed something else almost any crispbread or toasted pitta bread would be fine. You could cut the calories with a low-fat yoghourt, but I suspect the richness of the yoghourt is crucial to the taste and texture of the soup.)

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