I felt a real connection of place, history and food when I stayed on a farm in Tuscany years ago. That was a place where acres upon acres of old grapevines and olive tress have been cultivated for centuries. Shaking down the olives from the trees, or tasting the unripe grapes on the vine, were unforgettable. They stay with you until your tastebuds are awakened when they’re least expected. This black grape, blue cheese and thyme flatbread, from Yotam Ottolenghi, takes me back to those senses I experienced while in Tuscany.
Grapes, cheese and bread go well together. They are ubiquitous on a cheese board, in a picnic basket, or in an everyday lunch box. Somehow with some chefy magic, the black grape, blue cheese and thyme flatbread has become something, what shall I say, out of the ordinary. All the ingredients are elevated individually – the grapes, the cheese and the bread.
You cook the grapes into a jammy syrupy texture until the flavor starts to concentrate. That’s quite easy to do. Making the bread is a little more involved. A few basic ingredients of flour, water, yeast, oil and salt are kneaded, fermented and rolled into dough. Then dough turns into bread. Finally, there is the cheese. The creamy blue cheese melts from the searing heat of the freshly baked flat bread, layered with the jammy grapes. As a result, the finished grape and cheese flatbread is something transforming. It speaks the language of complex bold flavors and a long history of food.
I don’t know why grapes are not as common in our kitchen as they are in the vineyards. While looking out for Concord grapes in the market, I have discovered the many varieties of grapes. Above all, I’ve reimagined an ancient, but highly valuable and refined, fruit – the grape, to incorporate and revel in my cooking and baking going forward.
I’m linking this post to IHCC at its potluck gathering this week.
Black Grape, Blue Cheese and Thyme FlatbreadPrint Recipe
- FOR THE DOUGH:
- 1 ½ cups/200 grams white bread flour
- 1 teaspoon instant dried yeast (fast-action yeast)
- 2 ½ tablespoons olive oil, more for oiling work surface
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- FOR THE TOPPING:
- 1 ½ pounds/700 grams seedless black grapes, such as Concord
- 1 teaspoon ground star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Freshly cut zest of 1 lemon, in strips
- ¼ cup/55 grams raw or demerara sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch (cornflour)
- 3 ounces/80 grams mild, creamy blue cheese like Gorgonzola (dolcelatte type) or St. Agur, torn into 1/2-inch/1-centimeter pieces
- 1 tablespoon picked thyme leaves
Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour and yeast with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add 1/2 cup/120 milliliters lukewarm water and, using a sturdy spatula, bring the mixture together until it forms a shaggy mass.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled work surface and, with lightly oiled hands, knead for about five minutes, until soft and elastic. If it starts to stick to your work surface then just add a little bit more oil. Coat the dough ball very lightly in oil, transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a slightly damp cloth and leave in a warm spot for about 1 hour, until nearly doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the topping: In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine the grapes, 1/2 teaspoon star anise, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 cup/240 milliliters water, the lemon zest and sugar. Cook for 13 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently and gently smashing the grapes with the back of a spatula until the consistency is jammy and the grapes have softened and begin to burst. Discard the lemon zest and stir in the cornstarch. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit/260 degrees Celsius.
Place a large, sturdy baking sheet in the oven to heat. (A thin pan can warp at this high temperature.) Lightly oil a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a roughly 11-by-15-inch/20-by-40-centimeter rectangle (a bit smaller than the sheet pan). Use your hands to press the dough so that the edges are slightly thicker than the rest of the dough, like a pizza, to prevent juices from spilling over.
Remove pan from oven, brush with 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and lay the dough on top. Brush the edges of the dough with oil. Spoon the grape jam onto the center of the dough and spread outward, leaving a 3/4-inch/2-centimeter rim clear around the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each of star anise and cinnamon. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until crisp and browned.
Remove from the oven and immediately scatter the blue cheese evenly over the top so it starts to melt. Sprinkle with the thyme and let cool 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut while still warm. Serve warm (preferably) or at room temperature.
Adapted from "Cooking" at the New York Times (https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018966-black-grape-blue-cheese-and-thyme-flatbread)