Every year around this time, two of my closest friends have a Harvest Party. It's a great reason for a party and something I look forward to each year as the trees start to lose their leaves, the air turns crisp and the markets are still bountiful with squash, apples and plenty of root vegetables. Its a potluck affair, which seems fitting for an event centred around the harvest, so there's always a mosaic of different dishes and styles of cooking. The best part of the party is something called "Fruits of your Labour", where each guest must bring to the party something that they have made or grown themselves. The sideboard overflows with a unique mix of items brought with pride, and I am always excited to see the variety of items on display: creatively made cards, all manner of jams and preserves, coveted buttercrunch, homegrown fruits and vegetables, a handmade beehouse...each year it changes. When its your turn you go up, admire all the possibilities, and pick something to take home with you. For a lover of all things homegrown and made, it's better than Christmas.
For the potluck part of the party I always bring the same thing. If I didn't, I fear there would be a lot of sad faces in the room. It's a grape Schiacciata - an Italian foccacia-like flatbread covered in grapes. Its a traditional bread seen all over Italy in September and October in celebration of the grape harvest. Wine grapes are the norm there, the seeds providing the characteristic crunch although I always make mine with organic seedless coronation grapes. These sweet, incredibly intense grapes make this bread what it is and while it may be traditional to use wine grapes, I don't think we would appreciate that bit of roughage here. The grapes cook on top of the bread, bursting their juices into the dough which absorbs it, some of the juices caramelize on the outer edges providing a smokey caramel flavour to the sweet collapsed grapes on top. Rosemary infused oil adds a savoury note and a generous sprinkling of sugar and honey add to the flavour. What you end up with is a simple, puffy bread, full of the goodness of the grapes and one of those dishes that simply screams autumn. When you serve this alongside turkey dinner, forget the cranberry sauce. Some people might even say, forget the turkey.
I fear that divulging my recipe will render me unnecessary at 2010's harvest party, but I'm willing to take the risk to help more people see grapes as more than something to make wine from or have in a fruit bowl.
adapted from Chez Panisse: Fruit
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 pounds seedless grapes such as coronation,destemmed
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
6 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped from the stem, but not chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp honey
1 sprig of rosemary for garnish
Place warm water in bowl of an electric mixer, add yeast, then whole wheat flour, salt and 1 cup of the white flour. Attach dough hook to mixer and mix on low speed to incorporate. Keep adding flour, slowly, until almost all is added, giving the flour time to absorb the water. Increase speed to medium when everything is absorbed. You may not need to add all the flour. The dough should clean the sides of the bowl, be just tacky and just stick to the bottom. Add more flour as needed. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes or until springy to the touch. A walnut piece of dough, gently stretched with your fingers should be able to form a thin windowpane of dough. If it tears very easily knead with the mixer another minute. Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough inside, over with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a slightly warm place for about 1 1/2- 2 hours until doubled.
Once doubled, gently fold the dough over on itself to deflate, then put aside to rise again for 1 hour.
While rising prepare the oil. Warm olive oil over med low heat, add rosemary leaves and simmer gently until they lose their green colour and infuse the oil with scent. They should just barely start to crisp. Strain the leaves and oil and put aside. At the same time start heating the oven to 425F and have rack on the lower third of the oven. If you have a baking stone place it in the oven now.
When the dough is finished rising deflate it and put it on the counter, cover with the bowl and let rest 5-10 minutes. Cover a large baking sheet liberally with olive oil.
Roll dough out to fit baking sheet, forming a small lip with your fingertips. If it springy at any time, stop and let rest for 5 minutes before continuing. Lay in pan, brush about 2 tbsp of the rosemary oil over the dough, sprinkle with rosemary leaves, then cover with the grapes. Drizzle grapes with honey and sprinkle evenly with sugar, then pinch of pieces of butter and scatter across. Drizzle with leftover rosemary oil.
Bake for about 35 minutes until sides are deeply browned and grapes have given off plenty of juice and should be looking collapsed and even slightly charred. When finished remove from oven and carefully remove from pan to a cooling rack. Before serving sprinkle with course salt and fresh rosemary leaves.
Please don't use generic red table grapes. This dish is all about the grapes, so its imperative to find the best you can. They should be deep in colour and intense in flavour with a nice mix of sweet and tart. Seedless is optional but makes for a much more pleasant eating experience, in my opinion.
The bread dough can be made ahead and then punched down and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Take out about 2 hours before you want to cook it to bring to room temperature.
This recipe makes a very large bread, but can easily be halved.