Friday, October 26, 2007

what to do with grapes

We see grapes everywhere. Not only in the juice with which we are making the wine, but some still left wild threading through the almost bare trees, or at the farmer's market, or on our produce purveyor's list. We have been cooking with grapes at every available opportunity, while they are still fresh, still in season. We've adapted a schiacciata, or flatbread we used to do at the bakery and that you find in typical places in and around Florence, a crisp foccaccia studded with black grapes, anise seed, rosemary, and finished with a sprinkle of sugar and drizzle of olive oil. Instead, we roll out a pizza crust at the restaurant, thin as music paper, and fleck it with the grapes, rosemary, thinly sliced pancetta, the anise, good olive oil and the sugar, then bake for 8 or 9 minutes at 400 degrees.

Even though the days have mostly been warm with sun as if summer just keeps going and going, the season has given up on our green cherry tomatoes. We cut the green tomatoes up to cook down with black grapes, lemon and orange peel, fresh ginger, and sugar. This makes a Sicilian-style composta for the cheese plate at the restaurant, a good pair with creamy, young fresh cheeses, like a young goat's milk, or a blend of goat, cow, and sheep's milk with a hint of bloom.

On the menu at the restaurant is a classic Tuscan dish that we have been making for years, sweet pork sausages with black grapes and onion, the onions and grapes almost stewed and making a fruity gravy with the cooked sausages. One of the keys to all dishes with black grapes is that they have not been tampered with, no genetic variations, no seedless numbers. The seed is essential to the texture and flavor just as it provides the same in a good red wine.

Excerpted from Pane e Salute: Food and Love in Italy and Vermont

Salsicce con L'Uva/Sausages with Black Grapes

While this dish makes for excellent dinner fare, [we] personally prefer it served on a crusty roll for lunch along with a glass of Chianti Colli Aretini (red wine from the Arezzo hills). That's because we once had such sandwiches in the Piazza del Municipio in Arezzo on a brisk and bright autumn day during the monthly antiques fair. Now that [we] think of it, that sandwich wasn't much more than just grilled sausage and bread with a little rough local wine in a plastic cup, served in an atmosphere of shouting, joking cooks, and centuries-old sideboards, headboards, and dressers surrounded by buildings from the Renaissance--an atmosphere to elevate any meal. If you don't have good crusty bread on hand, make a few mashed potatoes while these sausages are roasting in the oven. Serves 4.

2 large yellow onions, halved and slivered
2 cups black grapes (Concord, Globe, or any other ripe black variety), rinsed well
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4-8 sweet Italian sausages (1 or 2 sausages per person)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large roasting pan or skillet mix the slivered onion and grapes together with your hands. Drizzle some oil over them and sprinkle with several generous pinches of salt and pepper. Mix again and spread out the mixture evenly. Nestle the sausages in the onion-grape layer, but don't let them be completely covered. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes, until the onions have cooked down considerably, the grapes are soft, and the sausages are plump and browned on top, even a little bit crusty. Pierce one of the largest sausages. They ar ready when the juices run clear. Spoon a bed of onions and grapes into a serving platter or individual plates, top with sausages, and serve.

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