Several recipes feature the sweet-tasting fruit. Tamara Murphy’s Roasted Grape, Olives & Walnuts appetizer is a big hit at her restaurant, Terra Plata.
GRAPES GET a lot of respect in the wine world, where oenophiles know the nuances of every variety. By the time the fruit reaches the glass, we hear a lot about every overtone of licorice or hint of toasty vanilla.
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Table grapes, by comparison, get short shrift. Though they’re easier to eat than wine grapes, with thinner skins and smaller seeds, for the most part we’re stuck selecting between bunches of green and red. They get decorative and innocuous treatments, often relegated to fruit bowls and children’s lunchboxes. A handful of markets sells seasonal Concord grapes, the heady purple favorites used for grape jelly and grape juice — but surprisingly few, considering that Washington grows more Concords than any other state.
Seattle food writer Susan Volland, who once authored a cookbook on California grapes, notes that wine grapes can be used in recipes if you have access to them. “They need to be ‘pipped’ and peeled if the skins are tough, but the flavors are so much more intense and interesting,” she writes in an email. “When you finally taste a unique, ripe wine grape, you can’t help but go, ‘Whoa! So THAT’S what wine is made from!’ ”
Don’t despair if you don’t have a vineyard connection, though. It’s easy to raise up the overlooked table grape to a better spot on the plate. I swear by a green grape and cucumber gazpacho recipe I picked up in these pages from former food writer Nancy Leson. At the former Boat Street Café, they were pickled with mustard seeds and cinnamon; writer Molly Wizenberg shared that recipe online. Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream makes a seasonal Concord Grape flavor with fruit from Yakima.
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Volland says you can swap grapes out for tomatoes in almost any recipe. Her own creations include a green grape and tomatillo salsa, as well as a rosemary-grape focaccia bread.
And in some cases, grapes earn a classic place on a dining-out menu, as with the Roasted Grapes, Olives & Walnuts appetizer that Tamara Murphy, owner of Terra Plata restaurant, first put on the menu at her previous groundbreaking Brasa restaurant soon after its 1999 debut.
“We used to have a grape and olive and walnut pizza that we did in a wood-burning oven. I decided we should just serve it as an appetizer,” Murphy says, crediting then-colleague Holly Smith, now of Cafe Juanita, with helping develop it. “The flavor profiles of those three items work so perfectly together. You have the earthiness of the walnut; you have the saltiness of the olive and the sweetness of the grape. That’s what you try to achieve in every dish.”
Teaching cooking classes, Murphy uses that dish to illustrate how to build flavors, saying, “This really showcases what you are trying to do … you want to touch all those notes.” At Terra Plata, the Capitol Hill restaurant she opened in 2011, she brings it back to the menu every fall after a summer break, serving it with crostini and Cabrales cheese.
“People love it,” she says. And (unlike the difficulty level of winemaking, I might add), “anybody can do it.”
Roasted Grapes, Olives & Walnuts
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 cup oil-cured olives
1 cup good-quality green olives, such as picholine
1 pound red seedless grapes, off the vine
½ pound walnut halves
2 tablespoons picked thyme leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Toss all ingredients together. Drizzle olive oil just to coat.
3. Spread on sheet pan. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Tamara Murphy’s recipe from “Savor Greater Seattle Cookbook,” by Chuck and Blanche Johnson.