There’s something about preparing for guests that’s truly in my blood. Was it all the years I worked in restaurants and catering? Or digging even deeper, transferred from my parent’s love of throwing elaborate dinner parties? I recall very early on in life, waking up while my parents still slept, to find the table covered with dishes and wine glasses, and being utterly entranced by this adult otherworld that I was not privy to. It was like an archeological dig–trying to place what conspired by piecing together artifacts I had very little information about.
I love placing silverware down on napkins, I love letting cheese sit out all day to get soft, I love shining wine glasses with a cloth. I know there is this romantic notion of the host cooking while everyone watches, laughing and drinking wine, but frankly that makes me a bit nervous– although I’m always impressed by people who can do it. I prefer having everything ready so when the guests come I can pour myself a glass of wine and sit down and talk.
Last week, I had some friends over to celebrate recent nuptials, the season, and general friendship and camaraderie, and although I wanted it to be special (and I worked the two days before) I still relied on my preserving know-how to carry me through. To start we had burrata with an heirloom tomato confit that I had made the week prior. Some duck liver paté was paired with pickled figs. Bread and bubbly was all that was needed to while away the afternoon while we sat outside in the unseasonably warm weather.
For dinner, I had a roasting pan filled with some winter savory chicken and lamb sausages, onions, shallots, and potatoes. On another tray I had thin slices of Japanese kuri squash drizzled with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. Both went in the oven at the same time, and all I had to do was pop them in. They looked great on a large platter in the middle of the table with serving utensils. On the side were some leeks with vinaigrette. A full dinner for six with a modicum of work.
Dessert was an apple frangipane tart I bought (gasp!) and which we didn’t even dent. I served it with a few cheeses, and a platter of grapes and figs. We finished the cake for breakfast the next morning, and the fruit sat for a day or two until I turned them into this mostarda, which came out amazingly delicious. A few days later, I served it with some blu mauri, an Italian goat and cow gorgonzola when a new batch of friends stopped by. And so it goes: preserving saves the day! Make some mostarda this fall, and make sure to have friends by to enjoy it.
Mostardas are great on meats, go well with cheese, and are happy just on a piece of bread. Be creative and don’t worry if your fruit isn’t perfect. This recipe is a guide–use your taste to figure out what you like best. The mostarda will also mellow a bit after a few days in the fridge, so keep that in mind.
Grape and Fig Mostarda
1 pound fruit, mixed grapes (Concord and Niagara) and fresh black mission figs
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar (although 1/4 cup of honey would be great)
1 cup fruity white wine, like an off-dry riesling
2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
Cook the grapes in a pan with the vinegar until soft. Pass through food mill to remove the seeds and break down the skin. Return grape puree to pot, add quartered figs, the wine and mustard. Boil down till you reach a jammy consistency, about 30-45 minutes because it’s a nice small batch (some recipes will have the time at a few hours). Store in the fridge. Serve with savory items–a bold cheese, cured meats, etc.