The Wine Harvest, by Francisco Goya.
Recipe: Tuscan Grape Harvest Focaccia
Every year around this time I make a version of the classic Tuscan grape focaccia called schiacciata coll’uva to celebrate the Italian wine harvest, even though I think it’s a little bogus to celebrate such a faraway event in New York. I should probably instead be marking the West Village water bug infestation that always seems to come upon us right around now. I’m not sure what kind of focaccia water bugs would make, but I know my cats would like it.
I consider this grape focaccia one of the genius dishes of the Italian kitchen. In my opinion it’s up there with pasta con le sarde and Genoese pesto. It has an unusual combination of flavors that happen to taste wonderful together.
You start with a basic focaccia dough, but with a little sugar added, and then top it with red grapes. In Italy they eat the grapes seeds and all, but I chose seedless red flame grapes so as not to upset my mother’s iffy digestion. Then you add a scattering of fresh rosemary and whole fennel seeds, a little salt and black pepper, a sprinkling of sugar, and a drizzle of good Tuscan olive oil. A slice of this focaccia with a glass of Chianti is heaven on earth. The water bugs are welcome to the crumbs.
Tuscan Grape Harvest Focaccia
(Makes one approximately 15-by-10-inch focaccia)
For the dough:
1 package active dry yeast
1¼ cups warm water (about 115 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra
½ teaspoon salt
For the top:
1½ cups red flame grapes
½ cup sugar
A pinch of salt
A few small sprigs of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A small palmful of fennel seeds
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and the sugar, giving them a quick stir to dissolve clumps, and let sit until frothy, about 8 minutes.
Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture. Then add 3 cups of flour and the salt. Stir the mixture until you have a nice soft dough. It will be quite sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead very briefly, just until smooth, about 4 minutes, adding a minimal amount of extra flour to prevent sticking (mostly flouring your hands).
Oil a large bowl, and place the dough in it, turning it once to coat the top in oil. Cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Coat a 15-by-10-inch sheet pan well with olive oil. Turn the dough out onto the pan, and stretch and pat the dough out, fitting it into the pan. Spread the grapes out on the dough, pressing them down a bit. Scatter on the rosemary and fennel seeds. Give it all a few grindings of black pepper, and sprinkle on the sugar.
Give the focaccia a generous drizzle of olive oil, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit again, until it’s puffy, about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Uncover the focaccia, and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the focaccia is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.