by Sandy Sauter
Harvest 2019 has begun. Sparkling wine grapes started just a couple of weeks ago, and soon the Napa Valley will be in full grape-harvest mode.
The annual grape harvest has always evoked nostalgia and emotions for me as I’m sure it does for many Napa Valley residents. Our roads get a little busier, the days start to get a little shorter, the colors start to change, we notice the smells of fermentation in the air, and all our summer fruits and vegetables are at their best.
As summer runs into fall, we start getting the full bounty of Northern California. Summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes and corn transition into grapes, Delicata squash, pears and apples.
Simple tomato salads with fresh herbs and sea salt are an easy preparation for everyday meals. Combine tomatoes with day-old bread to make panzanella (Italian tomato-bread salad) or a baked breakfast strata.
I was recently able to purchase a large box of over-ripe tomatoes from Big Ranch Farms, a regular vendor at the Napa Farmers Market. After removing the skins and seeds, I canned the flesh and juice to enjoy during the off season. I’m already looking forward to tomato soup later this fall and winter.
In honor of Napa Valley’s best-known crop, we will also be featuring grapes at the Napa Farmers Market during September. Grapes are not just for charcuterie boards and lunch boxes; you can enjoy them in many different sweet and savory dishes.
A quick online search for savory grape dishes yielded lots of options. I love a simple grilled chicken salad with halved grapes. You can make a mayonnaise-based chicken salad (don’t forget the walnuts) or a spinach salad with chicken and grapes. Grapes can also be sautéed or grilled and served with burrata or on crostini, maybe with a bit of rosemary to dress things up.
Pickled grapes are on my to-do list for this year. My recipe is a quick pickle that will only last a few days after preparing. You can use pickling spices and a red or white wine vinegar to make these sweet and sour treats. I
Of course, the quickest way to cool off on a hot late-summer afternoon is with a bowl of frozen grapes.
The Napa Farmers Market should be your go-to place for just-picked summer fruits and vegetables. Buying from local producers who grow what they sell ensures that you get the freshest and best-tasting produce. While you’re at the market, stop by the Chef Demonstration booth on Saturdays at 10 a.m. for some inspiration. We have a great lineup featuring chefs from local restaurants. They are ready to answer all your cooking questions.
Focaccia with Harvest Grapes
Schiacciata con l’Uva
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
Filling and topping:
2 pounds wine grapes or other grapes, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
For the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the oil and half the water and stir. Continue to add water until the dough begins to come together into a shaggy ball.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and pliant, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball.
Using about 2 tablespoons olive oil, coat the bottom and sides of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm area until the dough has doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours depending on the ambient temperature.
Divide the dough in half, and place half on a large 13- by 9-inch baking sheet. Stretch it to cover the baking sheet. Drizzle the dough with a little olive oil and scatter half the grapes over the dough. Sprinkle the grapes with half the sugar and rosemary.
Flatten the remaining dough into a 13- by 9-inch rectangle and place it over the dough in the pan. Pinch the edges of the two doughs together to enclose the grapes.
Scatter the remaining grapes over the dough and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining sugar and rosemary.
Let the dough rest while the oven preheats to 375 degrees. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown and the grapes are bubbly and soft, about 45 minutes. Cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Makes one 13- by 9-inch focaccia
Kids activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Tuesday and Saturdays for Story Time at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. There might be coloring, matching games or other fun activities, too.
On the KVYN Music Stage: On Saturday, August 31, Kendall Osbourne will be performing. On Tuesday, September 3, Victoria Fowler will be our guest musician.
Harvest of the Month: Through August, enjoy a comparative tasting of melons at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m.