It's Day 2 of Concord Grape Week. Time for spice and sweet and heat. And grape.
I’ve waited seven months to make this Concord grape moustarda. I did a review of the source, the lovely cookbook Fruitful in March, and longed to try this recipe. But you need Concord grapes that, in March, are mere memories.
A moustarda is an Italian-originated condiment made by combining candied fruit with mustard in a syrup that is often given additional zing from vinegars or herbs or both. Originally used with boiled meats, to aid the palate in the face of those pasty boiled flavor notes, moustarda is now used across the board.
Moustarda adds an element of elegance to a cheese board. This Concord dish would be exemplary with pork loin, chicken, and surely duck. I suppose, for a kick, a dollop of this atop vanilla ice cream or gelato would end the meal with some definite taste sensation.
How does this moustarda taste? In a word: overwhelming. You cannot miss the sweetness of the grapes augmented with brown sugar. There is the sour bite of vinegar, the strike of the shallots and the punch of the mustard. I had thought that the mustard flavor might be overtaken by the grapes, but it is not. To avoid spoiling the balance of this dish, do follow the recipe. Taste test and then make adjustments to your own pleasure.
What does the condiment look like? That picture gives you an idea: deep, dark purple with the heavy skins of the grapes now quite softened but still affording a visible texture.
This is a wonderful condiment, sure to please you, and employable from a meal’s start to finish. Even on that ice cream.
One little thing. Well, a medium thing. This recipe calls for seeding the Concord grapes. When I made this, I skipped that pain-in-the-ass step. I did find myself fishing the larger seeds out of the final product. The smaller seeds had softened during cooking and were not a problem. Larger seeds were. Next time, I’ll follow the tip below. With the harder seeds removed, which took a few minutes fishing around in the cooked product, my moustarda was fine, but authenticity and purity should not be denied.
The seeding tip and other exceptional recipes can all be found in Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck. It’s a serious, yet happy book for fruit lovers.
1 pound Concord grapes seeds removed (see tip, below)
½ cup thinly sliced shallot
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
Pinch chili flakes
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the grapes, shallot, sugar, vinegar, sage, and chili flakes. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the juices are thick and syrupy, about 30 minutes. Stir in the mustard. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Concord Tip: Seeding Concords can be a messy labor of love. You can leave in the seeds if you're okay with a little extra texture, or to make things easier, spread the grapes on a baking sheet and freeze them for 20 minutes or so. Slice the semisolid fruit in half and remove the seeds with the tip of a paring knife.
Source: Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck [Running Press, 2014]
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for1/50th second at ISO‑1000
It’s very possible that only Samantha Seneviratne could have written this book. She grew up in Connecticut to parents from Sri Lanka, but she often traveled to that native land to cook and even pick spices with her grandmother. A foodie by birth and by training and by career, she graduated from the Institute for Culinary Education and worked as a food editor in major publications: Good Housekeeping, Fine Cooking, and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.
With all that experience and evolving skills, her intrigue with the spices and cuisine of Sri Lanka never lagged. And, living in sugar-rich America, she developed a concern: we do eat too much sugar and sugar is a poor flavor substitute for the richness of those very spices that have triggered the creation of empires and transition of cuisines. The spice trade was important for two reasons: money and flavor. Today, the money is less important. The flavor remains key.
The New Sugar & Spice has a key subtitle: A Recipe for Bolder Baking. Here the idea is simple. Less sugar, more spice. Better flavors. And healthier. It’s a positive tradeoff that has to be explored. And you’ll be instantly tempted to explore as your turn the pages of this book. Here you discover chapters devoted to the dominant spices Samantha considers:
Peppercorn and Chile [yes, in a baking book, trust her]
Clove & Cardamom
Savory Herbs and Spices
What treats are in store for you here? Let me give you a baker’s dozen of the recipes:
Sweet Fig and Black Pepper Scones
Salt and Pepper Caramel Brownies
Cinnamon, Hazelnut and Date Buns
Ricotta Cheesecake with Bourbon-Raisin Jam
Indonesian Spiced Layer Cake [heavy with cinnamon]
Concord Grape Streusel Cake
Orange-Clove Pull-Apart Cake
Orange and Honey Baklava
Cardamom Cream-Filled Sugar Doughnuts
Apricot Raspberry Cobbler with Hazelnut Biscuits
Pavlova with Lime Custard and Basil Pineapple
Big Chewy Apricot and Ginger Cookies
Apple Danish with Caraway Cream
Oh you counted? I said a baker’s dozen and there are fifteen ideas here, fifteen very sophisticated ideas. That’s the only problem with The New Sugar and Spice: once you start with this book, you won’t stop.
With her extensive education and experience, you’ll find the recipes here are, as I say, sophisticated. There is a real and quite successful attempt to present ideas that are lovely extensions to classic desserts, like that Pavlova with Lime Custard and Basil Pineapple.
These are low sugar recipes, but sugar is not absent. Samantha is just creative, not crazy. Will you miss the sugar? Oh, Lord, you’ll be so overcome with flavor you won’t notice one missing grain. But you will gain a new appreciation for spices. Who knows, you might want to visit Sri Lanka yourself to stock up in the very land some people think was the Garden of Eden. After using The New Sugar & Spice, you might agree.
We are weeks into fall and it’s that nostalgic time of year. Green is disappearing from our trees, replaced by the reds and oranges that announce the growing season is over. Farm stands offer up the final bounty of summer and that late fall corn. Fresh food times is nearly at an end.
That’s what we all think. And it’s wrong. Because beginning now and through the winter is the season for citrus. To leverage the winter citrus crop to the last drop, we now have Citrus by Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson. Victoria lives in the Topa Mountains of Ojai, California, surrounded by citrus groves.
Valerie and Victoria have produced a volume of recipes that you can start with today and walk your way through all the way to next spring. It’s a beautiful little book, with lovely photographs of lively recipes. At the end of this post, there’s a picture of their Grilled Sardines with Orange and Polenta. That’s typical of the recipes in Citrus: something different, needing just a little time, offering such a bounty of flavor.
The book is organized into chapters for each of the citrus fruits they consider:
And The Rest [kumquats, citron, …]
There is a great two-page guide at the start of the book suggesting Dishes by Course. Here are examples of the best ideas in Citrus:
Your Breakfast can sparkle with
Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon Cream
Breakfast Crepes with Candied Tangerines
Meal Starters include:
Farmhouse Ricotta with Persian Lime Oil
Halibut Ceviche with Lime and Tequila
Lime and Chile Salted Almonds
Main dishes employ citrus flavors in clever ways:
Whole Roasted Fish with Lemon and Fennel Flowers
Dungeness Crab with Lime and Chile Dipping Sauce
Osso Buco with Orange Gremolata
Tangerine Sticky Ribs
Salads, Soups and Sides can all be improved with the bright intensity of citrus elements:
Honey Oranges with Lavender Flower
Roasted Salman with Anchovy and Lemon Dressing
Szechuan Shrimp and Ruby Grapefruit Salad
Desserts is the biggest collection of recipes with ideas that will end your meal with a citrus flourish:
Burnt Sugar Meyer Lemon Tart
Valencia Orange Bread and Butter Pudding
Dark Chocolate Waffles with Maple Kumquats
Orange and Rosemary Polenta Cake
You can sip your citrus as well as eat it. In Drinks the suggestions abound:
Ice Blood Orange Margarita
Page Tangerine Negroni
Citrus is filled with recipes that will catch your eye and perhaps command your attention. While the recipes display a sophistication of flavor combinations, they are easily executed. Typically, the recipe has a half dozen ingredients and that many well written paragraphs for preparation. The writing is direct and easily followed. Nowhere here will you get lost in mid-recipe. It's a smart book.
It turns out that winter does not have to be filled with fondness for the freshness of spring and summer. Winter has its own bounty of citrus tartness. Citrus is your introduction to winter satisfaction.