Vegetable and fruit preserves: nature under cover
Your stock is saved thanks to an ancient preservation method that uses oil and vinegar in a way that has changed little or nothing over time
Whether in oil or vinegar, preserves are a pantry staple. Although they can easily be found in any supermarket, it is definitely healthier to make your own at home in just a few steps, preferably using locally grown vegetables.
The giardiniera, queen of preserves
The most widespread and best-known preserve in Italy is the traditional giardiniera, pickled vegetables made using what is available in the vegetable garden. Peppers, carrots, celery, and cauliflower are the classic mix usually used, however, there are an infinite number of versions, also depending on the time of year you decide to make it. In fact, a fully summery giardiniera can count on the addition of courgettes, cucumbers, green beans and peas. One made close to autumn might instead include mushrooms, onions, pumpkin, broccoli or turnips.
However, the must-have characteristics are few and well codified: bright colours, crunchiness of the vegetables and an acidity that is well dosed, never excessive.
One of the secrets of making a good giardiniera is to boil each type of vegetable separately, so that cooking times are dosed for each one, resulting in ‘al dente’ vegetables instead of soft and rubbery ones.
Everything can be preserved in olive oil or vinegar
Not only do Italian winters live on a giardiniera: oil or vinegar pickled vegetables are an infinite number and all perfect for stuffing sandwiches, reinforcing long aperitifs with friends, enriching salads, or even just adding that touch to a rather plain dinner there and then. With very ancient origins (preservation in vinegar is already mentioned in Babylonian documents 4,000 years ago), preserves are practically suitable for all vegetables and many types of fruit: in addition to the classic giardiniera, we can also preserve artichokes, pumpkin, sun-dried tomatoes, hot peppers, aubergines, and courgettes in oil. We can preserve cucumbers, onions, peppers, capers, and many other vegetables such as radicchio, for example, in vinegar – white wine, red wine or apple vinegar.
Apart from jams, marmalades, compotes, and gelatines, all of which are delicious, one typical fruit preserve from northern Italy is mostarda, and the name may be misleading for non-Italians. In fact, if the term mostarda – from the French moutarde or English mustard – is almost everywhere associated with what we call ‘mustard’, in Italy the same word indicates a spicy fruit preparation. The origin is probably traced back to the Latin mustum ardens (burning must, i.e., spicy), even because grape must is an important ingredient of this preparation in many areas around the country.
The geographical area that corresponds to the province of Cremona, in lower Lombardy on the border with Emilia Romagna, is where this delicacy is mastered. Made by boiling water and sugar until a syrup is obtained, to which mustard and chopped fruit is added. After cooking for about two hours, the mostarda obtained can be jarred and then pasteurised, a necessary step for a safe preservation. This gives the fruit a sweet-and-sour taste, more or less spicy depending on the amount of mustard used, which makes it a wonderful accompaniment for sumptuous, boiled meat dishes and delicious cheeses.
We recommend our microwave apple mustard recipe to make it quickly and easily at home in just a few steps. Pay attention to the notes we have included as they should be followed carefully to obtain a delicious and safe product.