It has been over a month now. No camera, no cooking, no storytelling. Once the accelerated rhythm of our lives takes over, something got to give. It's been a hectic summer and one long blogging journey, and I welcomed the break.
A silent mediation of a sort.
It has been strangely purifying.
I am not ready as yet, but it was the grapes that made me do it.
Late September market is my favorite. Like the last breath of the waning summer, late September market is breathtaking. Produce is still ripe with the summer heat it feasted on, and all the colors of the rainbow pour down on the sidewalks of this City. Soon it will be yellow and orange only, but for the moment they were all there: the bold and brilliant reds of the late summer peppers -- the sweetest peppers of all, as well as the shy, muted heirloom tomato reds -- the messengers of the fall; leafy greens in the color of deep woods, as well as the palest green squashes, the color of snapdragons -- almost white in their greenness; the compulsive purple cauliflowers, and the lacquer shiny eggplants wearing the shade of one thousand and one nights -- dark and inviting as a sin.
But it was the blues that got my attention.
"I am fairly sure that God meant the color blue mainly for food that has gone bad," wrote Jeffrey Steingarten in The Man Who Ate Everything. I cannot agree more. I'll stay a million miles away from blue foods, drinks and desserts -- think Curaçao or that awfully dry sponge cake in a corporate cafeteria that spells "Happy 25th anniversary" in a blue jell that permeates the frosting around, leaving an inky blue trace, as if the sponge cake is not enough. In our all consuming anti-blue feeling, Jeffrey and I allow for the exclusion of plums and berries, but somehow, in a blue-food-induced-haze, we must have forgotten the grapes, or perhaps we were color blind for the moment, thinking them purple, but no -- no, no, no -- the grapes, the wine harvest grapes I bought last Sunday at the Union Square Greenmarket were unmistakably blue.
Dark blue and intoxicating, these were the grapes that tell stories. Wrapped in the color of Tuscan nights and the darkness of the wine cellar they were promised to, they carried the sweetness of the long, lazy summer days ripe with heat, and the cool scent of the evenings to come, perfumed with pine, sage and geraniums. And all the wild flowers nearby. I closed my eyes and for a brief moment there I was, in the vineyard, harvest time, in a midst of an 18-hour long day, when there is nothing else around but sweat and hard work, the sound of shear blades snapping around the vines in a hectic dance, and the everlasting scent of grapes.
For a brief moment, I traveled far and wide... And I felt it. I really, really felt it.
That, my friends, is the power of good produce and good food. The power to transcend time and space.
The power to tell stories.
Focaccia with Grapes (Schiacciata con L'uva)
Adapted from Epicurious
It was Margie from Food52 who introduced me to this recipe. That's the power of community. I am forever grateful, because I have not tried anything as exciting in a long time. That's the power of simple foods that shine. Simple foods are spell binding. But life teaches us that there is always a caveat or two, therefore... This spell will work if and only if one is using the heavily perfumed wine grapes and a really, really good olive oil -- herbal and grassy. No wine grapes handy? Do not even attempt. I cut down the sugar from the original recipe, it was a bit too much, this is a foccacia after all, not a cake.
* 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (1 package)
* 3 tbsp full bodied dry red wine
* 1 tbsp honey
* 3/4 cup warm water (110–115°F)
* 2 1/2 - 3 cups Italian "00" flour (I used King Arthur Italian-style flour)
* 1/4 cup very fine extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Tuscan with aromas of fresh grass), plus some more for oiling the pan
* 1/2 tsp kosher salt
* 1 1/2 lb Concord or similar wine grapes
* a scant 1/4 cup sugar
* one 15x10-inch sheet pan
* 2 pieces of parchment paper, about the same dimension as the pan
In a large bowl, stir together yeast, wine, honey, and warm water until yeast is dissolved. Leave the mixture for 10-15 minutes until it bubbles vigorously. Stir in one cup of flour (the mixture will be lumpy). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, for about 40 to 50 minutes.
Add the olive oil, 1 1/2 cups flour and salt, and stir until sticky dough forms. Knead the dough on a floured work surface, gradually adding up to 1/2 cup more flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and elastic but still soft, for about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough into an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, for about 1 hour.
Turn out dough onto the work surface and knead several times to release air. Cut the dough in half. Line the baking sheet with one piece of parchment paper and lightly oil the paper. Flour the rolling pin. Place the half of the dough onto the paper (keeping the remaining piece covered) and roll it out into a 12- by 10-inch rectangle. Then working with your fingers, gently stretch the rectangle to cover the baking sheet as much as (leave about an inch space on every side).
Scatter half of grapes over the dough, then sprinkle grapes with half of the sugar. Place the second piece of parchment paper on the work surface and lightly oil it. Roll out the remaining piece of dough in the same manner as the first one and put on top of the grapes, gently stretching the dough to cover the grapes. Scatter remaining grapes and remaining sugar on top. Gently press grapes into the dough. Cover pan with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, for about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Place the focaccia in middle of the oven and bake until well browned and firm in the middle, for about 40 to 45 minutes. (After 25 minutes, reduce temperature to 385F). Slide the focaccia onto a wore rack to cool. Serve at room temperature.