Casting about for a way to glamorize a turkey preparation, my gaze fell upon a bunch of plump, seeded purple grapes I had purchased at the farmers’ market. I like the seeded varieties for their winy flavor and crunchy seeds, and I thought of the Italian delicacy mostarda, a specialty condiment of Northern Italy. It was originally based on the residue, called “must,” left after crushing grapes for wine. Mostarda became such a runaway hit that, inevitably, variations popped up. Some were with pears, some with apples or quinces, some, like the most famous one, mostarda di Cremona, without any grape must at all, just mixed fruit in syrup.
For my rendition, I combine the grapes whole, including seeds, with toasted mustard seeds and mustard powder to accentuate the mostarda aspect (though, it’s not clear if the mostarda name is based on the must or the mustard, both key ingredients). Other suitable purple, seeded grapes for mostarda include Concords, the grape of Welch’s juice and American grape jelly, and Zantes, also called champagne grapes.
The recipe was originally published in the glorious but short-lived Williams-Sonoma Taste magazine. I make it often in grape season to add verve to poultry, pork, beef, and lamb dishes. It’s especially good with Thanksgiving turkey. If you don’t relish the crunch of seeds and prefer a smoother style, substitute purple seedless grapes.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 pounds purple grapes with seeds, rinsed, stemmed, and halved
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked with a mallet
1 tablespoon powdered mustard, preferably Coleman’s
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Spread the mustard seeds on a microwave plate or in a small ungreased heavy skillet and toast on high or over medium-high heat until just beginning to pop, about 2 minutes either way. Transfer the seeds to a large bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir to mix. Microwave on high, stirring every 5 minutes, until bubbling and thickened enough to lightly coat a spoon, from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the juiciness of the grapes. (Keep in mind, grapes have a lot of natural pectin and the mixture will thicken considerably as it cools.) Alternatively, stir together the toasted mustard seeds and remaining ingredients in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until done as above, about 30 to 40 minutes. Either way, remove and let cool completely before using. Will keep refrigerated for up to 6 weeks.
A technique hint: to keep the peppercorns from flying all over when you crack them with the mallet, place them on a paper towel, fold it over to enclose them, then hammer away.