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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grape Expectations

It makes me happy when fresh table grapes start popping up at the farmers' market. They have no pretense or high-falootin' calling.  They are what they are...delicious table grapes.  Right now,  fantastic varieties of grapes spill out of  baskets and crates from a few market vendors. Recently, Boyds Orchards offered pint baskets of adorable champagne grapes. Delicate. Perfect. Sweet. Bound in little clusters, the little grapes exploded like tiny juice bombs.

While the  early season pink Reliance grapes have come and gone, this past week Elmwood Stock Farm had gorgeous seedless blue-purple Mars grapes and seedless green Marquis grapes.

"Try one", she said. Like warm sun-kissed tomatoes, they were fabulous.  Delicate and soft skinned, they didn't snap and squirt like thick-skinned refrigerated supermarket grapes. They  quietly popped and gently melted in my mouth, subtly tasting  like the vines that nurtured them.

Like summer corn, fresh lima beans, heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, okra, or Casey county cantalopes, I wait for the arrival of fresh Kentucky  grapes. When they finally appear at the market, I scoop them up like mad. After snacking on them for a while, tossing them into salads, or freezing  them to chill glasses of crisp white wine,  
I roast them.

Roasted Champagne Grapes...with stuff.

I methodically made a very basic pot of polenta. (4 cups vegetable stock, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup polenta)  After stirring the polenta for about 25 minutes to cook out the moisture, it naturally started  to spit and plop like a gurgling cornmeal volcano.  I pulled it from the heat before adding 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, and 1/2 cup minced fresh paresly. While the polenta was still pliable, I poured it onto a plastic-lined sheet pan, smoothed it out, covered it tightly, and tossed it into the refrigerator to set up.

After tossing  beautiful clusters of Black Corinth champagne grapes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme, I roasted them in a 400 degree oven until they started to burst, collapse, and caramelize, about 35 minutes.

While the grapes bubbled away in the oven, I sliced the chilled polenta into triangles and sauteed them in olive oil  until they were golden brown.   I topped the warm triangles with thinly sliced aged gorgonzola piccante and let their slight heat gently wilt the cheese.

I tumbled the roasted grapes onto a large platter, finished them with fresh thyme, and nudged the cheesy polenta toasts to the side before finishing with minced fresh parsley and aged balsamico di modena.

While the sauteed polenta triangles provided crisp neutral bases for the  the wilted gorgonzola,  the aged  balsamico di Modena  cut through its pungent creaminess with specks of tart sweet acidity.

The  roasted grapes were key. While some of the grapes caramelized and broke down, others remained whole and plump, creating contrasting textures and layers of natural sweetness from their cooked concentrated sugars.  Paired with the gorgonzola and polenta, the popping grapes added a mellow wet balance to the whacky flavor combinations.

Simple table grapes and cheese.
With a little sass.

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