One of the things I really look forward to in the fall is making a “Harvest Platter,” which features the likes of fennel, figs, clementines, chestnuts—and always grapes.
Consumed on the holidays and part of the usual Sunday spread when the leaves change colors, it was the ideal tie-in to the homemade vino produced this time of year in my grandfather’s cellar (scroll directly below to see his cellar from an autumn many years ago.)
I love grapes and they are wonderful this time of year. “Escape with grapes” is my motto for the day, and quite frankly, I don’t feel like waiting another minute to mangia on this colorful treat—I want my fix right now. You know, there are so many different things that you can do with this amazing fruit. I came up with a few ideas that center around the process of oven-drying grapes…
If you aren’t familiar with the term, a “tea party sandwich” is a mini sandwich that is served as an appetizer or a snack. Even good for the kids after school to hold them over until supper. The following recipe for my “Tea Party Grape & Goat Cheese Sandwich” is one I created using this oven technique. I highly recommend using Concord grapes. Pairing the end product with a creamy cheese like goat cheese makes for a spectacular flavor combination and is a new and unique sandwich that your guests will truly savor.
In a 250 degree pre-heated oven, bake a single layer of grapes on a cookie tray for about two hours on parchment paper until they dry out. Some chefs would suggest keeping them in the oven for as long as six hours, but two is plenty to achieve the goal we are looking for here. Let them completely cool off. Basically what you are getting is homemade raisins, only plumper and larger than the usual store-bought raisins. Next, take a mini croissant and place on a piece of arugula, followed by a slice of goat cheese and top with the grapes. Drizzle with a bit of honey, close sandwich and enjoy!
These oven-dried grapes can also be used to create a super simple but extremely delicious meal: “Grape Glazed Chicken Cutlets.” In a skillet, pan-fry chicken cutlets (seasoned with salt and pepper) in a little bit of olive oil and butter. Deglaze the pan using four ounces of red wine and four ounces of grape juice. Mixing the wine and the grape juice along with the oil and butter creates an unbelievably flavorful sauce. When plating the dish, top cutlets with the grapes. Also FANTASTIC with salmon as well.
Of course you didn’t think I wouldn’t come up a dish with my signature specialty now would you? “Pork Meatballs with Grapes” are sure to please. Some of my Sicilian friends use raisins in their meatballs, so this isn’t really unusual at all. In a large bowl, mix ground pork, along with grapes (about ½ cup), three eggs, ½ cup of Italian breadcrumbs, ½ cup of parmigian’ cheese, a nice handful of chopped fresh basil leaves and two tablespoons of tomato paste. My meatballs are always made with “the trinity” of veal/pork/beef, but in this instance, I let the pork stand alone (I also omit my sautéed onions but you can certainly invite them to the party if you wish). Now you can also do this with just veal but I’d say probably not with just beef. Roll into golf balls and pan-fry them in a little bit of olive oil. You can serve these during cocktail hour with toothpicks along with balsamic glaze for dipping.
So that concludes my grape escape for the day, I hope you enjoyed the journey!
This Saturday and Sunday, in honor of Christopher Columbus and the start of Italian Heritage Month, join me and my “Meat & Greet” Team at our Johnny Meatballs Stand in East Rutherford, NJ. We’ll be set up at the Columbus Festival which will be held on Union and Railroad Avenues. Meatball sandwiches will be for available for sale and a meatball eating contest will take place on Saturday afternoon after the parade—with your’s truly serving as emcee!