A grape surprise


Blame the rain, the 45 mph winds and the power outage that spread across two days.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I live among the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  When the weather is great, it’s a glorious place to be.  When it’s bad, it’s miserable.  This week, the electricity went out just as I was preparing to publish this post on my desktop Mac.  So I’m later than usual.  My apologies.

Grapes called to me at the farmers market for weeks as I contemplated schiacciata all’uva, a Tuscan variation on foccacia, liberally studded with dark, juicy grapes and dusted with a blanket of sugar.

schiacciataI’d been holding off on baking, though, hoping that wine grapes–perhaps some spicy zinfandels–would show up in one of the stalls.  Italians, after all, make this sweet bread with the same Sangiovese grapes they press for Chianti.

Yet every week crates of the Central Valley grape growers who come to Santa Cruz markets were piled high with the same ordinary Red Flame and Thompson seedless table grapes.  Once in a while there would be some dark purple grapes the sellers just called black seedless.  All were crisp and refreshing eaten out of hand but not as deep in flavor as I had hoped.  Still, when nothing more interesting showed up, I decided to go with what was at hand.  I started with the darkest, fattest grapes I could find, the black seedless.

What a surprise!  They were wonderful baked in the schiacciata.  The heat of the oven concentrated the flavors and the juice turned thick and syrupy.  Who would believe they were the merely pleasant table grapes I had sampled at the market.   Later, I found that Red Flames also were transformed by their time in a hot oven.

This dish is so simple it’s brilliant – pizza dough, grapes, sugar and perhaps some lemon zest for extra flavor.   You don’t even have to make your own dough.  Although I prefer the yeasty flavor of homemade dough, Trader Joe’s refrigerated pizza dough worked just fine.  If you don’t have a favorite pizza dough recipe, try this one I posted last year.schiacciata2

There’s plenty of time left to bake your own.  Growers say they’re likely to have several varieties of grapes into December and as late as January.

The moral here, of course, is not to be too quick to dismiss the ordinary.  Those old familiar varieties may prove truly extraordinary when picked ripe and showcased in the right recipe.

Serves 8

1½-2 pounds pizza dough (see Note)
1½ cups red or black seedless grapes, washed and dried
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Olive oil
5 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste

Make pizza dough and let rise according to recipe or use refrigerated dough that has returned to room temperature.  Oil a rimmed 12-inch by 17-inch baking sheet.   Place dough in center of the baking sheet and gently press and stretch to the rims. You may want to oil your hands to do this if the dough is too sticky.  If the dough resists shaping and spring backs when stretched, let rest uncovered for 5 minutes or so and try again.

Brush dough evenly with a light film of olive oil.  Scatter grapes over the surface and lightly press into dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until dough puffs up around grapes.  This could take as little as 45 minutes or as long as 1½ hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Just before baking, remove plastic wrap and sprinkle with lemon zest, if using.  Evenly dust the surface with sugar and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Cool bread briefly on a wire rack, then loosen it from the pan with a metal spatula and transfer it to a cutting board. Cut into squares and serve warm or eat within a day.  The bread gets stale quickly but it does freeze well.

Note: If you’re making your own dough, you will want to use a recipe that calls for about 3 cups of flour.  You can find an easy recipe here.

–Aleta Watson

2 thoughts on “A grape surprise”

  1. I was lucky enough to pick cabernet grapes up in Calistoga last week, and I thought about bringing some home to make just this recipe. But somehow, I never managed to get back into the field to pick some more bunches after the crush and the cleanup. I\’ll try it with the black seedless.

  2. Diana, cabernet grapes sound fabulous although I bet they would need more sugar because of all that tanin. I’d love to get my hands on some. At the Kaiser farmers market, I also saw a cross between Thompson seedless and Concords, which were great. But I took them to a friend and couldn’t find them again in Santa Cruz.

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