Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

This is for Libby, who shares my passion for great focaccia and whose friendship I cherish deeply...

Here is my idea of a perfect lunch.  Pull together a nice mix of cured meats and cheeses (think proscuitto, salami, sopresatta, sharp asiago, creamy bleu cheese or a tangy Humbolt Fog), whip up a quick tomato salad, and serve these goodies alongside a warm slice of bread.  If you're lucky, it will be a sunny day and you can dine al fresco with a good friend by your side.

It just so happens I had a lunch just like that about a week ago.  In fact, the meal in the photograph above is what our lunch looked like before we dug in.  And it was divine.  The best mix of sweet, salty, crunchy, and tender with a conversation that matched the food in all aspects.  But it would not have been nearly as good a meal without the focaccia.  My girlfriend and I ate nearly half the loaf in one sitting!

It was this bunch of grapes that inspired everything.  I found these beautiful little champagne grapes and fell in love with them, but they're tiny and really hard to eat.  What could I do with them?  Something in the back of my brain clicked and I remembered reading about a focaccia served in Italy at harvest time that is studded with wine grapes.  I didn't have any sangiovese grapes hanging around, but wouldn't these little beauties work just as well?  After scouring the internet, I came up with this bread which is (in my humble opinion), the best of all the ideas there were.  It's slightly sweet from honey and the intensely flavored roasted grapes with a nice contrast from a sprinkling of sea salt and rosemary.  This bread is truly out of this world, as are the friends I've been lucky enough to share my food with over the years.

Grape and Rosemary Focaccia
I used champagne grapes for my bread, but feel free to use any other available grape.  I would, however, try to use seedless grapes and probably stick to red or black varieties.  You don't HAVE to roast them, but I think it helps to enhance their flavor and keeps the bread from getting too soggy.  If you use the larger grapes, cut them in half before roasting.

3/4 cup warm water
3 tbs dry red wine
1 tbs honey
2 1/2 tsp quick rising yeast
2 cups flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups grapes
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsp raw (coarse) sugar
1 tsp coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, mix together the water, wine, honey, and yeast.  Let sit in a warm spot until bubbly.  It will be a very pretty purply color and noticeably foamy.

Into this mixture, stir in the flour, olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt.  You can let it rise (covered) on the counter for 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk, but I think the bread benefits from the slower rise it gets in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, let the dough rise overnight in the fridge.  When ready to bake the refrigerated dough, let it come to room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Whichever method you chose for the rise, at this point the dough is ready to be pressed into a well-oiled pan with low sides (like a jelly roll, sheet pan or cookie sheet).

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay a sheet of parchment or non-stick liner into a second pan.  Spread the grapes evenly over the pan and bake for 15 minutes or until the grapes begin to wrinkle and the juices escape.  Let the grapes cool slightly and raise the heat of the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together the coarse sugar and sea salt.  Drizzle the surface of the dough with a bit of olive oil.  Using your fingers, press the roasted grapes deeply into the dough.  Scatter the rosemary leaves over the grapes and sprinkle the sugar/salt mixture over the top.  Bake the focaccia for 15-18 minutes.  The top will be golden brown and the bread will spring back if touched.  Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan on a baking rack.

Slide the bread from the pan and cool completely on the rack.  Using a serrated knife, cut into squares and serve.

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