With their ability to tack on excess calories, saturated fat and salt, sauces are often considered a health taboo. Yet if prepared wisely,
they can provide variety and panache to lean proteins and vegetables. Mostarda, a little-known Italian condiment, pairs brilliantly with pork and turkey. As a make-ahead dish or for entertaining, it provides a little heat, a little sweetness and a lot of creativity to standard healthy fare.
A tangy cross of a jam, a pickled fruit and a chutney, mostarda is prepared by candying pitted fruits and pairing the mixture with ground mustard seed-infused oil. "In some places, (the fruit-mustard combination) is probably a big jump because most people are used to yellow mustard," says chef Chris DeBarr of The Green Goddess. "It's basically a chutney by any other name, but it has the presence of mustard seed and mustard oil."
This healthful take on mostarda is a twist on a variant from the Veneto, Italy region, where mostardas are more jam-like than candied. We keep the two essential ingredients — mustard seed and fruit — and replace sugar and oil with small amounts of high-flavor ingredients: Citrus, honey and red wine lend sweetness; low-sodium chicken broth and balsamic vinegar provide richness; and rosemary and cinnamon bring the intensity. Prepared mustard (Dijon or Creole) is a quick alternative to mustard oil. By lengthening the cooking time, flavors reduce and intensify, increasing sweetness, tang and bite without adding salt or sugar.
The end result is worth the time, creating a dining experience that belies its low caloric impact. Given the intensity of its flavors, the mostarda is best served in limited portions, like a sipping whiskey. DeBarr notes that most mostardas use pitted fruits. Cherries are our favorite option, but mashed figs and blueberries provide a late-summer alternative.
Sour Cherry Mostarda
Recipe by Russ Lane
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, toasted and crushed
1/2 cup Creole or Dijon Mustard, divided
1 cup sour cherries, pitted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Zest and juice of one orange
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 cup water, or flavored beef or chicken stock
1/2 ounce fresh rosemary, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil for sauteing
1 tablespoon honey, or brown rice syrup, or agave nectar (optional)
On high heat, saute onions, garlic and mustard seeds until softened. Add dried fruit, orange zest, orange juice, red wine, vinegar and water/stock, and scraping the pan's bottom to dislodge particles. Add mustard, reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally to prevent burning. After about 20 minutes of cooking, add fresh rosemary. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency (about 10 more minutes). Set the mixture aside to cool. Adjust the flavor with no more than 1 tablespoon of honey for sweetness or mustard for bite. Serve chilled or at room temperature with pork, lean meats or bitter greens.
Per serving: calories 46, calories from fat 12g, fat 1g, saturated fat 0g, sodium 132mg, total carbohydrates 6g, dietary fiber 1g, sugars 3g, vitamin C 18 percent daily value, potassium 79 mg.