Tag Archives: Preserves

MOSTARDA and COTOGNATA- Sweets in Moulds

When I was a child growing up in Trieste at a particular time of the year my father and I would go to the railway station and collect a parcel, sent by relatives in Ragusa, Sicily. In it were irregular, round and oval shapes of cotognata and mostarda – not something that could be found in Trieste.

Many are familiar with cotognata, quince paste that in Australia seems to have become very common on cheese platters. I have never eaten it with cheese in Sicily. Cotognata it is a sweet that has a relatively long shelf life and is traditionally kept for those times when unexpected visitors arrive. One cannot make a brutta figura and have nothing available at home to offer to guests.

A few of you may be familiar with mostarda but perhaps what you are thinking of is mostarda of Cremona, mustard fruits in mustard oil and sugar and traditionally served with bollito misto di carne (a variety of boiled meats). Cremona is not in Sicily. Or you may have known mostarda as an ingredient for pumpkin tortelli (large tortellini – pasta pillows, similar to ravioli). This mostarda is generally made with quince.


The Sicilian mostarda is similar and eaten in the same way as cotognata but it is made with grape must, wood ash, citrus zest and cornstarch. Some add almonds or pine nuts and raisins (as in the recipe by the goddess of all Sicilian recipes, Mary Taylor Simeti). Others add cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cloves.

The ingredients are cooked until the must becomes thick, almost solid. The mostarda is then poured into these type of moulds and dried in the sun. Like cotognata it is generally spread with granulated sugar when inverted and exposed again to the sun until they are completely dry.

Now to the moulds. These belonged to my great grandmother and my brother has them hanging on his wall in the kitchen. I have a few, fond memories every time I see them. The moulds are called formelle.


PISCI ALL’ AGGHIATA – PESCE ALL’AGLIATA (Soused fish with vinegar, garlic and bay)

In the period before Christmas my fishmonger at the Queen Victoria Market seemed to be stocking a large quantity of what I call festive fish – mainly lobsters (called crayfish incorrectly), bugs, prawns, scallops and sashimi grade tuna – not the type of fish that I am interested in purchasing.

He always seems to have sardines, and squid but there seem to be no room in his display cabinet or fridge for these. He had run out of the small supply of King George whiting and flathead so I walked away with Snapper. I felt uncomfortable with this choice because I knew that although the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria (Fisheries) lists snapper as a sustainable species, in Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide (AMCS) it is considered to be overfished and environmentally limited in VIC.And that is just the issue; it can be relatively difficult to find information about making ethical choices and to purchase sustainable seafood.

This being the first week in January I was even more disappointed to find large supplies of swordfish, marlin and shark (marketed as flake, particularly in Victoria). He also had blue grenadier, blue warehou, snapper again, all classified as not sustainable by AMCS.

However he did have trevally a relative cheaper and tasty fish that is also sustainable. It is a strong tasting fish and a very suitable choice for making Pisci All’ Agghiata – soused fish with complimentary strong flavours – vinegar, garlic and bay. Aglio is the Italian word for garlic (agghiu in Sicilian), so it is easy to guess what ingredient is the defined flavour.

I had some Cippolata (a thick sauce made with onions, sugar and vinegar) in my fridge that I had previously made for another dish and presenting this as an accompaniment seemed perfect.

fish, 1-3kg
garlic, cloves, 6-10, cut into halves
bay leaves,
white wine vinegar, ¾ cup
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
flour to coat the fish (optional)
Coat the fish lightly in flour with little salt (optional and traditional).
Fry the fish in hot extra virgin olive oil, until all the sides are golden. Remove the fish and set aside.  Use the same oil or replace it (if you have coated the fish with flour). Heat the oil.
Add the garlic and when it becomes golden add the vinegar and evaporate for a few minutes.
Place the fish in a bowl deep enough to hold the fish and vinegar marinade.
Intersperse the fish with fresh bay leaves.
Pour the marinade over the fish. Cool it, cover and let the fish rest for several hours before serving at room temperature (or store in the fridge until ready to serve, and remove it from the fridge about an hour beforehand).
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) (read more)

Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide Online – the first online sustainability guide in Australia. Developed in response to growing public concerns about the state of our seas, it is designed to help you make informed seafood choices and play a part in swelling the tide for sustainable seafood. Visit www.sustainableseafood.org.au to learn more about sustainable seafood and buy your copy of the guide today.


CARCIOFINI SOTT’ OLIO (Preserved artichokes in oil)

If you live in the Southern hemisphere (as I do in Melbourne, Australia,) you may have noticed small artichokes for sale. Carciofi  is the word for the normal sized artichokes and carciofini are the small ones. Carciofini are also the baby artichokes that never develop to full size and grow at the end of the plant’s growing season (photo of carciofi spinosi taken at Palermo Market)

These small artichokes (that never develop to full size) are considered too small to cook and are customarily preserved in oil and eaten in the non-artichoke season. I realize that this may be difficult for some of us to imagine because we appear to be able to purchase artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes all year round in Australia, but being Italian and having been brought up with respecting and celebrating local, seasonal produce, I go without. (I ask myself how far away some of this produce is coming from and how long ago was it picked.)

The carciofini are first poached and then preserved under oil. Usually I only preserve very small quantities (they get eaten very quickly), but for each kilo of artichokes,

small  artichokes, 1 kilo
acidulated water – 2 lemons
For the poaching liquid
I use 4 cups of white wine vinegar, a cup of white wine and about one teaspoon of salt for the poaching liquid. They need to poach in sufficient liquid otherwise the bitter taste becomes concentrated and they could be unpleasant.
For the oil mixture:
Sufficient extra virgin oil to cover the artichokes and
1 tablespoon of whole black pepper corns, 5 bay leaves and about a tablespoon of dry oregano.
Use artichokes that look closed and firm (when the leaves start to open, the choke has started to develop and this can happen even to small artichokes if they have been left on the plant too long).
Strip back the leaves (you just want the tender heart) and kept them whole. Soak them in the water and lemon to stop them from browning.
Drain the artichokes and leave them upside down while you make up the vinegar/wine mixture. Use a stainless steel saucepan with a lid (to cover the artichokes as they cook).
Place the artichokes in the boiling mixture, cover and poach them gently in the mixture until cooked but not soft – still firm in the centre, but the outer leaves should have softened. The time for cooking varies (my last batch took 12 minutes).
Drain them of as much vinegar as possible and when cool pack them carefully into sterilised glass jars, pressing them down gently and trying to prevent as many gaps as possible. (Rather than a large jar I use smaller sized jars so as to minimise possible spoilage once opened).
Add flavours and cover with oil. To allow any trapped air to escape leave them for about 3 hours before sealing. During the resting time the level of the oil may be reduced, top with more oil and ensure they are well covered (some use an inverted small saucer on top as a weight to help keep the artichokes submerged but make sure that you sterilise the saucer).
Seal the jars and allow them to steep in the oil for at least 10 days before you eat them. Because I make small quantities and live in an apartment with little storage space, I keep them in my fridge, but they can be stored in a cool, dark place for about 6 months.


I never add fresh herbs or garlic to any preserves, as these are likely to go off, release gas and spoil the whole preserve.

When ready to use, remove the quantity of artichokes from the jar, drain them of some of the oil, add garlic slices and finely chopped parsley and a dash of lemon juice.

After each jar is opened, it is best to use the artichokes quickly. Add extra oil to the remaining artichokes to keep the contents submerged.I always keep opened jars in the fridge.