I always forget how perfectly sequenced the winding-down of summer is. Two weeks ago I was at the beach, grains of sand and damp curls sticking to sweaty temples. A week later, the weather settled into a breezy warmth. Now, the little hairs on my arms prickle into goosebumps when I step out the door in the morning. “Autumn is stretching her legs,” Ben likes to say. Images and feelings that I had shut away in my head in mid-April flood back: cool, dewy mornings; knitted woolly things; damp leaves. Scarves. Hot soup and apples. Boots! For the first time in months, I can unpack these ideas without the immediate sensation that they’re otherworldly. They seem possible, even.The tug of autumn is romantic enough as it is, but if your significant other is a vineyard apprentice, you may begin to blow it out of proportion. For Ben, this time of year means a lot of work. Deep down I know that and can maintain some sense of practicality. But, come on, how beautiful is the idea of a vineyard harvest? Picture-perfect grapes, the hand-sorting of clusters, and the crush of all that fruit into the juice that will become wine—it’s old-world pastoral mixed with a bit of Bacchanalian magic.After a just-before-harvest trip to the vineyard, I returned to DC cradling a cluster of merlot grapes in my lap, and entertained myself on the Metro wondering what I would do with them. In the back of my head, I remembered something about a traditional Italian harvest bread that included herbs and wine grapes. Some digging led me to a few different recipes, some labelled schiacciata con l’uva, and others just as a harvest focaccia bread with grapes. They were all shaped into free-form rounds, and almost all paired rosemary with the wine grapes. Italophiles or those of you with Italian heritage—maybe you can clue me in to a traditional way of making this. For my harvest bread, I fell back on this well-loved David Tanis recipe, adjusting the process based on what I cobbled together those various sources. The result is surprising: sweet where the grapes cook down into concentrated, jammy wells; savory where coarse salt sticks fast to olive oil and fruit; woodsy where the rosemary meets the chewy bread. The round of flatbread is big enough that it calls out to be shared with friends around a long table—a nice complement to my maybe-silly, idyllic agrarian ideas of the harvest. Enjoy these golden days, everyone.
Rustic harvest bread with merlot grapes
Adapted from David Tanis’ The Heart of the Artichoke & many other various sources
You don’t need wine grapes to make this recipe—any kind of sweet grape will do. Don’t skimp on the olive oil and coarse salt; they are what gives this type of bread its characteristic texture.
You will need
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour (or a mix, no more than a 1:1 ratio, of whole-wheat and all-purpose)
2 teaspoons fine-grained salt
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 cup wine grapes or other grapes, seeded if necessary and halved, if large
Several sprigs of rosemary, plus more to garnish
A good handful of coarse salt for sprinkling
- Mix yeast into 1/2 cup of the water in a large bowl, and ‘feed’ it with 3 tablespoons flour. Let sit until bubbly, about five minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients (except toppings: grapes, rosemary, coarse salt) and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a sticky, shaggy ball. Sprinkle with a little flour, turn out onto the counter, and work with your hands just for a minute or so. The dough should be fairly wet and sticky, but form a cohesive mass. Lightly oil a bowl (to minimize dishes, wash the bowl you mixed the dough in and then oil it), place the ball of dough inside and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Allow to rise overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the bowl and place the ball into the center of a large piece of parchment paper or a pizza peel that has been sprinkled with flour. Press the dough into a large circle, between 1/4 and 1/2-inch thick. Allow the round of dough to rise again in a warm place for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (if using a baking stone, place in the oven now). Press grapes into the surface of the dough. Strip the rosemary from its stems, and, tearing it a bit and pressing with your hands to release its oils, scatter it over the dough. Lightly dimple the surface of the dough with the pads of your fingers. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle generously coarse salt—do not skimp here–and transfer the round of dough to the stone or a baking sheet. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Garnish with more fresh rosemary sprigs, if desired.