Smoked Grape and Rosemary Focaccia
When I arrived at school, I came with every intention of getting super involved. I wanted to be that person – the person who squeezes in a few too many clubs and activities, the person who comes home exhausted. I honestly love being busy, and I wanted to wholeheartedly accept new experiences.
It was a valiant effort. In the activity fair my first week, I scrawled my email address onto dozens of sign-up sheets and mailing lists – social justice, poetry, photography club, the college newspaper, book publishing, even freshman government. I walked between the elms and brick buildings back to my dorm, consumed with anticipation, wondering which clubs I’d get into and which ones I’d fall in love with.
More than anything else, though, I wanted to be accepted to my school’s radio station. It’s prestigious around here, difficult to get into and fully student-run. Even though my passion is in print, in the weight of an inked word on paper, I’m smitten with This American Life and 107.7 The End (which I stream online here across the country.) I missed listening to NPR every morning in the carpool to high school. I missed radio in general.
I’d seen the students involved with the college station, and found everything about it appealing. I wanted to carry heavy headphones in my bag and hear my voice, weirdly foreign, emerge from the radio. I picked up an application.
Four weeks later, I’m even busier than I’d hoped to be, even though I slowly withdrew from most of the clubs I’d signed up for. Instead, I got a job at a bakery, which I’m so excited to start. I clung to photography club, which is one of the highlights of my week – photos will come soon, promise. Add homework, classes, a few minutes for meals and – oh, did I mention? Lots and lots of radio.
I’m a reporter for the news department. I make contacts and conduct interviews, which I edit into sound clips and adjust until the levels are right. I research. I’m learning to project my voice and breathe properly on-air. I now search for potential stories everywhere, breathing in information and exhaling headlines. I rewrite press releases and post stories to the web. And at least several nights a week, I’m underground at the station past midnight, rerecording my script over and over and over… trying to pronounce all the words correctly.
I had no idea it would be this hard, or this demanding. I didn’t realize it would take me two hours to produce a 45 second clip, and… well… a lot longer to create an eight minute one. And I couldn’t have anticipated how much I’d adore it.
To be sure, it has its downs. We were expected to hit the ground running, and my first week was rough. I’m starting to learn the terrain, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve had afternoons where nobody answers my calls, where I say, “Hi, I’m Elissa Bernstein and I’m a reporter with–” only to be cut off and dismissed. There have been nights where I spent more than twice as much time editing and writing than sleeping. (Which is easier than it sounds when you’re running on 4 hours of sleep.)
I remember the shift where I couldn’t figure out how to work the dashboard, with all its dials and buttons. Once, I accidentally bumped the microphone off its stand. Another afternoon, I hung up the phone after a great interview, only to realize I’d improperly recorded the conversation (in other words, hadn’t recorded the conversation) and had to start from scratch.
As a new staff member with no previous experience, everything is trial and error.
Even though I’m only seriously involved with a couple activities, they’re full of so many unfamiliar skills and unexplored subjects, my education extends far beyond the classroom itself. This radio position is more than an extracurricular, it’s a part time job and the wholehearted acceptance of new experiences that I craved. Who knows what I’ll be able to do in the future after this? Every time you acquire new knowledge, you can funnel it into the creation of something incredible.
Like smoked grape and rosemary focaccia.
My parents and I discovered smoked grapes one summer night a few months ago. We used to spend hours sitting in lawn chairs around our home-built fire pit, roasting hot dogs and watching marshmallows molt. One evening, long past sundown, when the whole world was crackling logs and faraway pinpoint stars, my mother brought out a bowl of grapes.
I think it was my dad’s idea. He skewered a grape onto a thin branch still sticky with marshmallow sugar, set it over the fire. It was smoking when he pulled it away from the flames. He popped it into his mouth, and a look of surprise took over his face. He made one for Mom, and I tried the next one. The grape was warm, but not hot, with a smokiness that caught you off guard. It was so strange, so good, so full of possibility.
We tried to brainstorm how best to showcase this miracle. I thought they would be good with anything and everything. Baked into a tart. Tossed with mixed greens in a salad. Or maybe sliced with bright, fresh jimaca and mango, served over fish? That’s when it came to me – I knew what I wanted to make first.
“Focaccia,” I said.
Last Mother’s Day I gave my mother a gorgeous book on tomatoes. The book is filled cover to cover with some of the loveliest food photography I’ve seen, and descriptions of dozens and dozens of tomato varieties. In the back, a recipe for cherry tomato focaccia, which I had mentally bookmarked from the first time I saw it. The page swam hazily to mind as I blew smoke away from another fireside grape.
I forgot that I’m not confident with bread-making. I was too excited. Instead I found a recipe for focaccia and bought a bag of grapes. I wanted to find another smoking technique, just in case not everyone has access to a firepit, or the time to individually skewer each grape. My dad said it could be done on the grill. He snipped bundles of sturdy, fragrant rosemary and burned them under the grill’s cover with a big bowl of the grapes. Soft grey smoke streamed steadily from the grill’s sides, like bubbles rising in a fish tank.
I can’t get enough of these grapes. After smoking, their color changed from deep red-purple to burnished gold, as if you could literally see the fragrant rosemary smoke swirling under the skins. My dad had to stop me and my mother from snacking on them as the bread dough rose. I spread the focaccia into a sheet pan, brushed it with olive oil, dimpled it with my fingertips and gently pressed in halved grapes.
It was an experiment, since I wasn’t sure if the loaf would be too watery, if the grapes would keep their flavor, if it would need a touch less rosemary. We pulled the sheet out of the oven. I cut the first slice, and oh, my gosh – that crackle as I broke the crust, the lightness of the center, one or two grapes nestled in with wrinkled tops… That bread was perfection. We ate it so, so quickly we almost felt sick. And it’s one of my favorite memories from this summer, keeping me warm as the temperature drops.
This focaccia is worthy of making twice, three times, over and over again. It’s light, not moist, but soft with a lightly crisp crust. The grapes stay juicy without making the bread soggy, and I just can’t get enough of their flavor. I wanted to put more on, but my dad liked that they were spread out because it made each one more special.
The loaf is also very delicious with blue cheese.
Here are my dad’s instructions on smoking the grapes:
The Bernstein Family’s Smoked Grapes
3 small bunches red seedless grapes
1 to 1 1/2 cups Alder wood chips, soaked in water
4 sprigs rosemary
Wash and dry grapes thoroughly and place in an all metal strainer or smoker suitable container.
I used our BBQ that has an interesting feature. The flame shield over the burner can be inverted and it becomes a cup, shaped to hold the wood for smoking. If your BBQ does not have a smoker attachment for wood then put the wood chips in aluminum foil directly over the burner. Place the wood over the HIGH flame and keep the BBQ open so it does not get too hot, we are trying to smoke the grapes not cook them.
When the wood begins to smoke, add the rosemary sprigs and reduce the heat to as low as possible. Place the grapes in the strainer on the opposite end of the BBQ and close the BBQ lid and leave it closed until the wood no longer produces smoke (the wood should all be consumed). Remove the grapes from the BBQ immediately.
Rosemary Smoked Grape Focaccia
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes a 15”x10” focaccia loaf
1/4 ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons for brushing
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary needles
Small bunch of rosemary smoked grapes, cut into halves lengthwise
1 teaspoon sea salt for sprinkling (I used black lava salt)
Stir together the yeast, water, and 4 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer and let stand 5-10 minutes. Add the 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 cup olive oil and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until a dough forms. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and switch to the dough hook. Knead dough at high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until soft, smooth, and sticky.
Transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough so that it is completely coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Gently deflate the dough and press it into a well-oiled 15” by 10” rimmed baking pan [I used a rimmed half sheet. It didn’t reach all the edges, it was fine.] Let dough rise in a warm place, covered with a clean kitchen towel, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and combine the chopped rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. [I didn’t do this, because there was already rosemary flavor in the grapes, but you could heat the oil and rosemary together with some garlic to amplify the flavor. You could also try mixing some rosemary into the dough itself.]
Using your fingertips, make shallow indentations all over the dough. Brush with the rosemary olive oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Press grape halves, cut side down, evenly into the dough. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake for 6 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 475 degrees F. Bake until golden. It’ll depend on the size and thickness of your focaccia, but the total baking time will be around 20-25 minutes. Immediately transfer to a cooling rack and eat at room temperature, or if you can’t resist, piping hot and ripped into hunks.
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