What do you eat when the grapes are ripe? Well, if you're surrounded by vineyards in northern Italy, you take your grapes and make a merenda, a snack, by pressing them into focaccia dough, sprinkling on olive oil, sugar, maybe a little anise seed, and baking the whole thing puffy and golden. And you call it schiacciata d'uva, which translates, appropriately enough, as "squashed grape thing."
But what if you can't get to Italy this autumn? While I was living in New York City, I discovered schiacciata d'uva on the fall menu at the Sullivan Street Bakery, along with a bunch of other rustic Italian-inspired breads and pastries. I'd walk 8 blocks from my office in Hell's Kitchen to get a slice in a paper bag, then eat all of it on the way back, wiping olive oil from my fingers as I went and wishing I'd bought two.
Spring, summer, and winter, I'd make the same walk for a slice of their Roman-style, thin-crust pizzas, topped with mushrooms or celery root, radicchio or potato. And they were good, but fall's grape flatbread was spectacular: pockets of juicy sweetness nestled into chewy, yeasty crust and crumb, accented by the surprising, subtly medicinal-herbal scent of anise.
Last time I checked, we had a lot of grapes growing around here. What with all the slick Italian pizza joints around, you'd think we'd be rolling in grape-topped foccacia right about now. But nope: just as New York City has no Indian pizza, San Francisco has no schiacciata d'uva, as far as I've been able to discover. But, you have yeast, you have grapes, you have flour, sugar, a little anise seed and an inch or so of last night's white wine, and you can make your own.
This recipe began from the Focaccia from Genoa recipe in Carol Field's cookbook Focaccia: Simple Breads from the Italian Oven, further adapted by baker/blogger Jen McAllister, then messed around with in my own kitchen. Jen, who became a friend while we were both living the sweet outer-borough life in NYC (she in Queens, me in Brooklyn), wrote one of my favorite blogs, Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina. We shared a similar obsession with making bread, cake, jam, and pie, and an equal enthusiasm for the late Laurie Colwin, out-of-print British cookbooks, and the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow in Arkansas, where we both did fellowships.
Sadly, law school's gain is the blogosphere's loss; she's now out on the West Coast, a good thing, but too busy as a lawyer-to-be to blog much anymore. Happily, though, her site offers a big archive to sift through, including step-by-step pictures of this very focaccia in action.
But, back to the schiacciata. Given that the word means "squashed," this is a thinner, flatter focaccia than the usual fluffy mattress. It's mostly crust and topping, with just a thin layer of chewy, pull-y crumb inside. Tiny garnet-colored champagne grapes are perfect for this, but most red, blue, or purple seedless grapes would be fine. I wouldn't use Concords or Muscats, though, as they're too sweet and strongly flavored.
Unless you have a huge aversion to anything remotely licorice-flavored, don't skip the anise seeds. You don't need a lot of them, but you do need some. If you have some larger-crystal sugar, like turbinado (also sold under the brand name Sugar in the Raw), it adds a pleasant crunch.
This is a delicious before-dinner nosh with a little smudge of ripe, oozy tallegio. For breakfast the next morning, I'd warm up a slab in the toaster oven and serve it with some of Bellwether's crescenza cheese, the recipe for which these Marin cheesemakers learned from a small dairy near Milan. Buon appetito!
1 cup flour
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp regular yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white white
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
olive oil for bowl
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups grapes, removed from stems
1/2 tsp anise seeds, or to taste
1-2 tbsp sugar
1. To make the sponge, dissolve yeast in a little of the lukewarm water. Add flour to the yeast mixture, then stir in enough water to make a stiff dough. You may not need all the water.
2. Cover sponge and let rise until softened and very bubbly, about 2 hours.
3. Scoop sponge (it will be sticky and stringy) into the bowl of a stand mixer, if you have one, or into a regular large bowl if not. Using the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon, beat in the water, olive oil, wine, and salt. Add the flour in 3 parts, beating well after each addition. The dough should be fairly slack.
4. Using a dough hook, knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes. Or, knead by hand for 10-12 minutes. Try lightly oiling your hands if dough sticks to them. If the dough gets goopy and threatens to wrap around your hands and turn them into enormous gooey dough paws, add a little more flour, but go easy. Better to suffer a little now than to end up with a tight, heavy bread later.
5. Swish a couple of teaspoons of olive oil around a big clean bowl. Turn the dough into it, turn to coat, then cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warmish place for 2 to 3 hours. Because you're using a fairly small amount of yeast, don't expect a big jump at this stage of the game. But it should rise somewhat, and have a nice supple, stretchy texture.
6. Lightly oil a large sheet pan, about 10 x 15. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto the sheet pan, spreading and stretching until it is forms a nice even rectangle. Dimple the dough with your fingertips. Brush with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
7. Let dough rise again for another 40 minutes or so. Preheat oven to 425F. Just before baking, dimple the dough again and brush with another tablespoon of oil. Scatter grapes over dough, followed by anise and sugar.
8. Bake on middle rack for 30-35 minutes, until gently puffed and golden brown.