Thursday, September 13, 2007

Big Bunches of Beautiful Grapes

As the summer yields to fall, grapes abound here in Barcelona.

Big bunches of beautiful grapes abound! Ha!

Nothing represents the end of summer quite like a grape. Augusts in Sea Isle City, my grandfather would freeze grapes. Each morning we would trek down to the beach, laden with beach chairs, paddleball, books, towels and coolers full of enough food to see us through till twilight. We were the typical shoobie family, hitting the sand before 10 am, staying until well into the evening. Dinners down the shore were always served later than usual. There was always a last walk on the beach, a few more pages to read, a final paddleball game. The cooler, therefore, had to not only keep us nourished, but also keep us happy. It held such treasures as Twizzlers, Tootsie pops and, of course, frozen grapes.

Each grape was a little frozen water ice wrapped in an edible red or green skin. They must be chewed quickly, passed from side to side with your tongue to keep your teeth from freezing and to keep brain freeze at bay. Sometimes they mix with the sand and salt on your fingers and taste even better.

That was a trick I taught Andres when we first met in the August of Argentina, the month of February. It was hot. He would stick the bed sheet in the cold shower and run back to the mattress on the floor we called a bed. I would freeze grapes. For weeks we lived on chilled wine, liter bottles of cold Quilmes and frozen grapes. When Karen visited she put on my overalls and we served her frozen grapes in a red Tupperware bowl.

For the years we shared a home in Buenos Aires, frozen grapes were our staple dessert. Fast-forward to Spain and grapes have taken on a different meaning. No longer just a dessert, they have become a symbol of wishful thinking. On New Year’s Eve the tradition here is to make twelve wishes. Each wish is symbolized by a single grape. When the bell tolls twelve, you must eat one grape for every stroke of the clapper. It is no easy task, especially if, like me, you make insist on buying grapes with seeds! At the first stroke of midnight, Spaniards (all 40 million of them!) begin frantically shoving the grapes into their mouths, swallowing wishes as fast they can. Only the truly dexterous are able to finish all twelve in that first second of the New Year. Still, as most things, the fun of it lies not in the accomplishment of the feat, but in the intent. Though the truly clever eat their big wishes first.

Autumn begins in a week’s time. And so grapes fill the fruit stalls in quantities not to be seen again till the end of December. Just last week Andrés and I found the most perfect bunch of grapes either of us has ever seen. It weighed about three kilos (almost seven pounds!), was beautifully shaped and we didn’t have the heart to pick it apart. Nor did we want to leave it for someone else to pick apart. So we took the whole thing home. Faced with three kilos of grapes, we pondered what to do with them.

We had them for dessert. We froze some. We ate them with wine and cheese (don’t tell Isaac Davis that!). And we still had so many!

What else to do with grapes?

Experiment with recipes. Savory ones.

Grapes to top Steve’s roasted garlic. Grape relish with tortilla chips. Warm grape salsa served with chicken and goat cheese.

Most recipes call for seedless grapes. Just as I ignore many details of the recipes themselves, I also ignore instructions to find seedless grapes. In part because we had already found a gorgeous bunch of grapes that happened to be seeded. Nor is it so easy to find seedless grapes here, even at New Year. And as I stood at my kitchen counter and de-seeded pound upon pound of juicy grapes I realized that I never again wanted to buy anything seedless. At least not while on holiday. What better meditation is there than the muted meeting of the knife with the wooden cutting block; digging thumbs and fingers into the sticky flesh; observing the delicate symmetry of the inner-grape; the sound of a child playing a toy xylophone floating down from a neighboring apartment.

Prepare all recipes to a child’s xylophone or to John Cage’s 4’33’’.

Ruby Port Glazed Grapes for Steve’s Roasted Head of Garlic

1 ½ cup red grapes
¼ cup ruby port or 2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh rosemary or thyme
1 baguette, cut diagonally and toasted
8 oz. Brie, rind removed, room temperature

Prepare Steve’s roasted garlic.

Remove seeds from grapes (if necessary) and halve lengthwise. Mix grapes, Port or oil and herb of choice in a bowl. Let stand 30 min to 24 hours.

Spread each toast slice with Steve’s roasted garlic. Spread Brie over. Top with grapes.

Grape Relish

1 lb seeded red grapes
salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh jalapeño chile
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Remove seeds from grapes and halve lenghwise. Toss grapes with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a bowl. Place mixture on a baking sheet and roast until shriveled, about 25 minutes.

Cool to room temperature on sheet on a rack.

Toss grapes with celery, onion, jalapeño, garlic, zest, vinegar, pine nuts, and 2 tablespoons additional olive oil. Serve with quesadillas (below).

Grape & Goat Cheese Quesadilla with Chicken

For Grapes:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
1 cup red grapes
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

4 chicken breasts, grilled and cut into thin strips
½ lb soft goat cheese
8 corn or wheat tortillas

Remove seeds from grapes. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 6 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper and saute for an additional 5 minutes. Add grapes. Cook over medium heat, until peppers are soft and grapes are wilted, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add fresh cilantro, and salt and pepper to tastes.

Place strips of chicken breast on tortilla. Top with goat cheese and grape mixture, adding more fresh herbs if desired. Serve with grape relish (above).


Seth said...

I make grape salsa at work during the holiday season--people literally go wild.

Last year, as a sort of sadistic joke, I made grape avocado salsa.

I thought it would taste incredibly odd. I though that the only reason to eat it would be for the shared experience of saying you had done so.

I was wrong, people gobbled it up, took the recipe, and, according to numerous reports, put it on the holiday table, next to the turkey!

Turkey with grape avocado salsa. Odd.

Seth said...

Prepare all recipes to a child’s xylophone or to John Cage’s 4’33’’.

To me, that direction announces the verve of FoodVibe...

Do you think I'm fat?

Bert said...

I have a glut of grapes right now and am going to try the relish.

Steve said...

yes. Yes. YES!

Frozen grapes = icy cold love nuggets

Seth said...

mmm...icy cold love nuggets.