Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Wild Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

It’s graping time. I can’t help it. Every year, come the first week of September, I run in the woods and am intoxicated, over and over, by the smell of the wild grapes. It’s like nothing else—except any artificial-grape-flavored thing you’ve ever loved. It smells like Nehi. Like Laffy Taffy, Grape Bazooka, Otter Pops. It makes me almost dizzy with longing. After you reach up or in to grab a handful, and then you burst the purple globes in your mouth, crush the tannic seeds under your teeth, the grapes will make your lips itch so extremely that you’ll be sure you’re about to collapse in a grape-scented anaphylaxis. But you’re not. It’s just the itch of the wild grapes! And later there might also be the itch of the poison ivy. But that’s a separate issue.

Wild grapes.
Are you still smarting, though, because I mentioned running, and you’re like, “Who are you? Last I remembered, you were rolling your tortilla boobs into a fancy burrito bosom before you lay down on the couch with two beers and a bucket of Corn Nuts”—and yes. That’s still me. I just run a couple miles here and there to compensate for the added Corn Nuts. Mostly I’m just in the woods to feel my thighs smack bracingly together. And to sniff out the grapes.

These are called Fox Grapes. They don't bake up as pretty, but they taste great.
The grapes! The grapes. There are two places where I really pick them, when I get serious. This involves the wearing of wellies and long pants and bug spray. And, ideally, the company of a helpful child or two to spot the best clusters and hold open the bag and get apologized to every time I lose my balance and fall into the shrubbery and say, “Fuck.” And then, when we get home, I boil them up into jam and the house exhales the sweet grape smell like we’re in a scene from Willy Wonka.

I’m not going to post the jam recipe here, because I’m not assuming you’re all out picking buckets of wild grapes. But for this insanely delicious foccacia, you don't need much: you can simply purchase a clamshell container of Concords from the supermarket (I think they’re coming from Michigan right now). And you should. It’s one of those dishes that makes you feel, if you show up with it at a party, like a movie star. Everyone will crowd around you fainting and crying with joy and marveling over the fact that you thought to put grapes and salt and rosemary together on bread, even as you compulsively confess that it’s not your recipe. And you’ll say, modestly, “I was too lazy to take the seeds out—I was supposed to take them out,” and everyone will smile with their blue teeth and say, “Oh it’s perfect this way! I can’t imagine eating this without the crunch of the seeds.” Except your friend Lea, who will say, “The seeds make me want to kill myself,” while she spits them into a bowl. But even she will admit that the bread is wildly, obscenely delicious.

Wild Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

Serves 2 or 4 or 8 or 12, depending
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 4 hours

This is my second year of making this, and there is no way to capture how good it is: the tender-hearted crunchy-crusted bread, the salt, sugar, oiliness, rosemary—all of it a backdrop to the fragrantly melting, bracingly tart grapes. The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, and she adapted it from Claudia Fleming’s Last Course. I do a few things different: I don’t seed the grapes; I do chop the rosemary; instead of warming the milk, I compensate for its chill by using hot instead of warm water. It’s not a hard recipe, but it involves strangely ongoing odds and ends of rising, so make sure you’re not in a rush to get somewhere.

3/4 cup hot water

2 tablespoons cold milk
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups halved Concord, red or black grapes (optionally seeded: Smitten uses the tip of a paring knife for this)

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, chopped

2 tablespoons coarse (or regular) sugar

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (or a little less than that of kosher salt)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and mix well on low. Attach the dough hook, raise the speed to medium-low and knead the dough for 8 minutes longer. (Okay, I did it all with the dough hook. What can I say?)

Brush a large bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Scrape dough into the bowl (I used an oiled rubber spatula) and brush the top with additional oil (or just roll it around in the oil like I do. The dough is profoundly sticky: do not be alarmed!). Cover with plastic wrap (or a bowl cover) and let it rise in a cool place until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Press the dough down with an oiled hand and divide it into two balls (Smitten has you start flouring hands and surfaces at this point, but I do better sticking with the oil, given how oily it all is). Brush a large baking sheet (or two small ones) with olive oil, place the balls of dough on it and brush the top with more oil. Set it aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel.

After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch shape. It will be dimpled from your fingers. Cover again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush tops of dough with remaining olive oil and top the sprinkle grapes, rosemary, sugar, and coarse sea salt evenly over the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Let cool before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

I couldn't resist showing you my yeast jar.

This is what the dough looks like when it's done! Seriously. It is a sticky mess.

But it's also very springy and lively, and it kind of burbles and bubbles while you're working with it, which I love. I'm so used to whole wheat bread dough, which is like the Eeyore to this dough's Tigger, if you know what I mean.

Risen, with oil blurbling up to the surface. Yum.

It is very funny and bouncy and you have to keep at it to wrestle it into flattened shapes.

Toppings. I've had the same jar of sea salt since some friends went to France years ago. I forget about it for months at a time. 

I forgot to take a picture, and opened the oven door to do it! Note the pooling olive oil, which the bread will absorb spectacularly. 

Beyond words.


  1. Catherine, these look divine. But I really wanted to say this: I have a four-week-old baby, and I've been rereading all of your Bringing up Ben and Birdy columns at Baby Center and weeping with gladness (and hormones), and it makes me feel so deeply understood (kind of like the time a friend said of me, "You are nutty, but not insane"). I am grateful. So, thank you.

  2. And, also, I'm sorry: you probably would prefer to hear that I made your gorgeous wild grape focaccia and it made my entire family blissfully in love with me -- and in fact, it probably would. Maybe you're totally over your Baby-Center-obsessed fans and would like to hear from your cooking fans. At this moment, though, I am lucky to get a plate of over-baked frozen fishsticks on the table in between bouts of newborn crying, so those grateful comments will have to wait. ;)

  3. Catherine I can't wait to try this...we grew concord grapes growing up in Washington and I know I have a neighbor here who would let me take a few. I just wanted to tell you that that I made your plum cake recipe Sunday night (its plum time here in Utah!) and it is spectacular! Thank you for sharing your recipes!

  4. OMG. I'm not even the type to say OMG, but really OMG - that looks amazing.
    I love your pairings of rosemary with everything sweet.

  5. Anonymous2:45 PM

    I love sucking on wild grapes pulled out of a vine while on a fall run as well! But that fake grape-y taste/scent always reminds me of my very first french kiss with a boy who I didn't even really like very much while slow-dancing to Stairway to Heaven at a 7th grade dance. Simultaneously exciting and almost gag-inducing. Dawning sexuality will always taste like grape to me...

  6. http://new.music.yahoo.com/zoe-mulford/tracks/fox-grapes--199710526

    I have to send you this link--selfishly, a little, because the singer-songwriter here is one of my lifelong best friends. But if you feel this way about grapes I suspect you'll really like her songs Fox Grapes. These look amazing!

  7. Karen7:53 PM

    Catherine, what blogs are you reading these days?

  8. You are cracking me up (or I'm cracking up, because I was at the Children's Hospital all day with Soren). I made focaccia yesterday and used figs (and shallots). I didn't have any of it today, but my best guess is that it figures into breakfast tomorrow.

  9. Laura9:29 AM

    Hi Catherine! I love that you're running - I just started doing two miles and it's the best! I love the way it makes me sweat! Heading out in the MA rain this a.m. xo

  10. Anonymous10:53 AM

    But how did you know where/how to find wild grapes? Is this a thing people know? How does one acquire said knowledge??

  11. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Thanks Catherine, cannot wait to try this! For Anonymous, look up grapes online and see the leaf shape, like a heart, and then check your local roadsides, once you learn to see them they are everywhere-wild grapes can grow up over wires and poles and then underneath the leaves are the big bunches of grapes. The catch is they only produce if they have a chance to grow up over something, so you might see the leaves in places w/o grapes. Nature trails and open cuts for power lines are good places too but wash carefully since those may spray chemical herbicides. Good luck!

  12. sharon2:08 PM

    You are so awesome. Truly.

  13. I just had to thank you for this:"just to feel my thighs smack bracingly together." That pretty much describes every exerting activity for me.

  14. This looks so good! I live in Los Angeles and I have no idea where I would find wild grapes. Even if I did find them, I'm not quite sure that I would be tempted to pop them in my mouth! However, Trader Joe's has some insanely good Thomcord Seedless Grapes. They are sweet and "grapey" and no seeds! So, even though they are not wild, I think I'll use them in this recipe. Thank you!

  15. Rebecca1:08 PM

    I hope you are not over your Baby Center obsessed fans! We loved you then and we love you still!!! I'm totally regular old grocery store grape rich right now- but I think I'm going to make this with them How bad could it be?

  16. ladidah5:47 PM

    wild grapes-- i may need to lie down with jealousy. and i thought we were lucky to have wild currants!

    also...i read your comment about running in the woods as running TO the woods (ie just to get to the grapes) so i am duly impressed with your trail running.

  17. Anonymous6:00 PM

    OK, I understand you aren't going to answer my plea in last month's comments for a "real" jam recipe for my fox grapes, plundered and picked with my "Birdy" (a boy born just a few weeks away who happens to look like her and who is an excellent forager, and who also learned a few new choice curse words as I tumbled down the hill). I am sure they are called Fox Grapes because you can't reach so many of them, as in Aesop. I will just dump in some sugar and maybe cinnamon and boil away. However, I will also try to set some aside so I can also leap into focaccia, which scares me way more than canning jam. I'm Nancy, I'm not on facebook or google nor do I have a URL, so apologies for posting as Anonymous.

  18. burrito bosom!!! you are so freakin' funny! i aspire to be more like you!!! focaccia looks super yum, not sure about wild grapes in brooklyn though. xo

  19. Anonymous5:48 AM

    Sorry, completely off topic...but this just reminded me of an old post of yours, where Michael used "focaccia!" as a substitute for a not-so-innocent swear word. Delicious

  20. ladidah2:55 AM

    well, scratch my earlier comment. today i walked around to the other side of the rented house we recently moved to and there are grapes growing there!!! and a plum tree!

  21. DOh!!! I buy my yeast in bulk; WHY am I not using one of the hundred mason jars in my house instead of the stupid cut-open bag inside another plastic bag that pours everywhere and is so complicated to not spill when I'm bread baking that I literally shush the four children during yeast making time just to get the right amount into the bowl?

    Oh, gee, pour it all into a container and then even the toddler can put it in.

    Sheesh. Sometimes I think my brain is melting. Thanks for the obvious photo!

  22. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Okay, I made this last night and a friend and I ate most of one. Sent her home with the entire second one and that was a big mistake because I've been thinking about it all day. It was absolutely delicious!! I will make it again very soon. The crunchiness of the seeds and the saltiness of it all were two of my favorite parts. Oh, and the flakiness of the dough...delicious! You must all go make it now. Thank you, bread lady ( as we call you with fondness around here...I've been feeding my kids the fearless bread nonstop for months)

  23. you are completely hilarious, I have read you for years, since Baby Center, and I always say that you're my favorite blogger. I would love to try this, except for my aversion to Rosemary. Do you think it would be fine without?

  24. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Just noticed that the NYT had a recipe for Grape Focaccia just last week... coincidence? I think not!

  25. As this was posted in 2011, and its now 2014 I'm sure no one will ever read this comment, but here it is, all the same.
    I have this in the oven for the umpteenth time of making it. An enforced day at home with a semi-sick little one is the perfect time for baking breads.
    Its the dead of winter here, -32 today in Ottawa, so I'm using frozen Saskatoon's from our summer picking instead of wild grapes. Here's betting there is non left by tomorrow :)
    So, as always, thanks for this, and all the other now staples from your kitchen it ours.

  26. There are grapes in the backyard of my mother's house in Queens, NY, and they make my mouth itch like crazy. Why is that?