Today was one of the days when the morning air clearly signaled the onset of autumn. That initial cool gave an indication that the sun was never going to warm the mid-day to a shorts and flip-flop kind of day. One could taste the frost of the future on the dawn of this day.
My day otherwise started as many of my Saturdays do – up early with a scheduled rendezvous with a group of people known to me only by theirs names on the list of participants for my Green Market class. It is a class where I have no planned recipes; there is no idea what the culinary desires of the assembled students might be. The schedule is to shop the seasonal bounty of the market with the rules being if we like it we buy; if we have never seen it before, we buy it, then head back to the kitchen and play with it.
I have been facilitating this program for years now, and revel in the excitement of the un-planned. Many great ideas for recipes have come from this – my cookbook was one of the most exciting ideas that came from this almost weekly adventure. Today we came back with a harvest of pumpkin, black radish, lamb bacon, Roxbury Russet apples to name a few ingredients.
We also bought grapes. We are at the emergence of the grape season here and upstate New York is delivering more than the iconic concord variety. We carried back explosively sweet Mars and Candice jewels. Then came the question of what to do with them. We had gotten some fish, and we could have gone in a French la Veronique direction or perhaps baked them in a cake with a brown sugar crumbled. But we had gotten some cheese, and my mind was sipping the autumnal moment. I offered we try caramelizing them in the fashion of a brittle. A curious chorus egged me on, and so we were off. To our collective surprise and pleasure the concept worked – with the resulting crackling pop of the grapes a new application for this seasonal player.
All I needed was a glass of Port and a roaring fire to finish this newly formed inspiration.
1-/2 pounds grapes (ideally small Champagne grapes)
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4-teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4-teaspoon coarsely ground coriander seeds
Scant1/8-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Separate the grapes from its stem and place them on a silpat lined baking tray, or a lightly oiled one.
Place the sugar, fennel seeds, coriander, black pepper and cayenne in a 2-cup saucepan with a quarter cup of water. Bring to a boil over a high flame, and cook to an amber hue – which is a caramel.
Remove from the heat, and allow the sugar to cool for a few minutes. Then drizzle the sugar over the grapes in a thin stream.
Allow the caramel to cool completely, and gently break the grapes into small clusters.
Serve with almonds, and cheese such as Manchego, Stilton or Parmesan chunks.