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The combination of fruit and herbs is one that’s been lurking at the edge of the popular food world for several years. And while professional chefs at cutting-edge restaurants may be successfully marketing basil ice cream and strawberries in fennel-seed sauce, the concept hasn’t quite caught on at home. Most of us tend to pair sweet stuff with spices and savory with herbs, with the occasional maverick like lavender floating somewhere in the middle.
I took my first tentative step towards culinary freedom several years ago, when I first tasted a mild, soft focaccia studded with grapes and scented with rosemary at the Hanover Inn, Dartmouth College’s fine dining establishment, which happens to be located only a couple of blocks from my house. Mike Gray (husband of our King Arthur test kitchen director and Baking Sheet contributor Sue Gray) is the Inn’s executive chef, and since we’re friends I like to patronize his establishment. Which isn’t difficult - his innovative, ever-changing menu, paired with friendly service and, during the summer months, lovely outdoor dining on a flowered terrace facing the Dartmouth College green, makes a trip to the Inn pure pleasure. (Does this sound like a plug? It is - a well-deserved one. If you’re ever up this way, be sure to visit us here in Norwich, Vermont, then cross the river into Hanover for a meal at the Inn.)
Anyway, back to the focaccia. I loved the taste - grapes and rosemary in bread was a surprisingly sublime combination - but I thought the execution needed a bit of help. Rather than fresh, almost uncooked grapes, I believed soft, semi-caramelized grapes, their flavor intensified as their liquid baked out, would both be tastier and, with much of their liquid gone, less soggy in baked bread. I decided to do some research, see if anyone else was producing this bread - and, nothing ever being truly new in the world of food, it turned out it’s an old Italian specialty. Both Bernard Clayton, in his New Complete Book of Breads (schiacciata con zibibbo); and Carol Field, in Celebrating Italy (schiacciata all’uva) detail versions of it.
I studied each of those recipes, and was able to glean that this traditional Italian harvest bread includes fresh grapes in a soft, egg-enriched focaccia. Clayton’s recipe includes rosemary, while Field’s substitutes walnuts. I considered both, then came up with my own version: caramelized grapes and just a touch of rosemary in a soft, tender focaccia. Serve this bread as an appetizer, or in a pre-dinner bread basket, along with grissini and other interesting breads; it’s happier standing alone, than being used to mop up marinara.
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons dried or fresh rosemary, to taste
3/4 cup (6 ounces) warm water
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Mellow Pastry Blend
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons (5/8 ounce) sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds seedless red grapes (about 80 grapes)
Manual/Mixer Method: Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and mix to form a cohesive dough. Knead the dough, by hand or machine, until it’s smooth. Transfer it to a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, gently deflating it after 1 hour if you decide to give it the longer rise.
Bread Machine Method: Place all of the dough ingredients into the pan of your bread machine, program the machine for manual or dough, and press Start. Check the dough about 10 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle; it should be quite soft (especially if you’ve used the lower-protein Mellow Pastry Blend rather than all-purpose flour), but still workable. Allow the machine to complete its cycle, then gently deflate the dough and allow it to rise an additional 60 minutes, if desired (this extra rising time improves the focaccia’s flavor).
While the dough is rising, prepare the grapes. Place them on a parchment-lined or lightly oiled baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they’ve released some of their juices, they look a bit darker, and they’re starting to shrivel and get a bit soft. Remove them from the oven, and let them cool.
Lightly oil an 18 x 13-inch half-sheet pan, or similar-sized pan. Flatten the dough on the pan, and shape it into an 18 x 13-inch focaccia. Don’t be uptight about making it exactly 18 x 13 inches - just make it fill most of the pan. It helps if you flatten it fairly flat (it’ll keep shrinking back on the oiled pan); then let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes; then flatten it some more. Spread the focaccia with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, and layer it with the grapes.
Cover the focaccia (a proof cover works really well here), and let it rise for 30 minutes. Gently push the grapes down into the dough; you want them semi-buried, not just resting on top. Allow the focaccia to rise an additional 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 375°F.
Bake the focaccia for about 25 to 30 minutes, till it’s golden brown. Serve it warm, or at room temperature. Yield: about 12 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (1/12 of focaccia, 102g): 209 cal, 7g fat, 4g protein, 30g complex carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 2g dietary fiber, 18mg cholesterol, 229mg sodium, 147mg potassium, 13RE vitamin A, 2mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 11mg calcium, 47mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XII, No. 6, Autumn 2001 issue.