Here it is, a recipe that, for me, perfectly summarizes that feeling of transition between summer and fall. The humidity has finally broken, we've slept with our windows open for the first time in months, and a front delivered some much needed rain -- and in its wake, a refreshing cool down. I've spent most of the sunlit hours over the past few days outside, breathing in the changing seasons and savoring every gulp. I feel a twinge of anxiety, knowing that days like these are limited, full of warmth and a crispness that quenches your soul, every evening, as soon as the sun dips beneath the skyline. This transition is so fleeting, just like the crops that come with it, just like the warmth, colors and textures of this concord focaccia.
The market always feels more alive than usual when the seasons are changing; food is new again, and there's a desperation in the air to savor everything we won't see again until next summer. I shared knowing looks with a few people heading away from the market with big boxes of bruised tomatoes in their arms, because I had the same plan for the afternoon, to create something that would capture this moment, these fruits, at peak season. A basket or two of grapes showed up at the market a few weeks ago, but this weekend they arrived by the bushel -- and in nine different varieties. Grapes are the tune I hum when I think of local food. They're the crop that grounds me in my passion, because my life completely changed the moment I tried one at a farm stand in Kentucky, the day I wandered to the bustling market on my own for the first time, the day when I realized that those red and green berries I'd grown up eating were not grapes at all. The bold, full sweetness of a concord grape taught me about the love, time, effort and risk that goes into growing for a local community. When the farmer only brought them to market for two weeks out of the entire year, grapes taught me how to savor the seasons, and to feel grateful for the people who tended the vines for months so I could enjoy one bowlful. Grapes, alongside many other crops I've fallen in love with thereafter, have taught me that food is the center of all of our most important relationships: with one another, with our planet, and with ourselves.
I piled a mixed bag of seedless varieties into my tote for snacking, a couple of pounds of concords for baking, and headed home with a plan and my arm stretched deep into my tote, plucking a few berries from their vines as I walked. Schiacciata con l'uva, or focaccia with harvest grapes, is a traditional central Italian flatbread made during September, when grapes are in season and being harvested for wine. It's also my favorite thing to do with grapes, beside eat them raw, because when baked, they taste fresh and like jam all at once. This bread is perfect for breakfast or dessert, or both. My version strays a bit from the tradition -- I've added salt and honey to the dough, and another drizzle of honey during the last few minutes of baking -- but it's still as juicy, sticky and crunchy as typical Italian recipes. The grapes remain whole as they cook, and burst on your tongue with each bite.
Concord Focaccia with Honey and Rosemary
Makes one loaf.
> 1 lb concord grapes (ideally, seeded)
> 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
> 1 package active-dry yeast
> 2 cups warm water
> 1 tablespoon honey (plus plenty for drizzling)
> 2 teaspoons sugar
> 2 teaspoons salt
> 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus plenty to coat the pan and for dipping)
> 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1. In a small skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Cook until the rosemary gives off a strong aroma, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine warm water and yeast. Give it a stir, and let it sit until the mixture has foamed, about 10 minutes. Once it's foamy, add the honey and whisk. Add flour, sugar, salt, and the rosemary-olive oil mixture and mix until combined. Knead the dough until smooth. If your dough is looking a little dry, add a tablespoon or two of warm water. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover the bowl in plastic wrap to keep it extra warm, and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
3. Coat a standard sized baking sheet with olive oil (my baking sheet was a little larger, 18 x 14). Once the dough has risen, punch it down with your hands and shape it into a loose ball. Split the dough in two, and set one half aside in the bowl. Using a rolling pin, roll out the other half onto the baking sheet as evenly as possible (the shape doesn't need to be perfect).
4. Sprinkle half of the grapes across the surface of the dough. Roll out the remaining piece of dough in a similar shape, gently drape it over the lower layer and stretch it to cover. Scatter the remaining grapes on top. Sprinkle with sugar and rosemary. Let the dough rise for an additional 45 minutes.
5. Set the oven to 375 degrees. Place the dough into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and carefully drizzle honey evenly over the bread. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, until golden and set.
6. Let the dough cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving. Serve alongside olive oil, honey, or if you're feeling fancy, a scoop of vanilla ice cream.