Friday, 16 September 2011

Love and food in the Appennines 2

An embarrassment of riches 
Sunrise over the Apennines
The grape harvest is now under way. The sun has burnt off the morning mist and three men in hats and bright shirts, carrying buckets, appear in the terraced field above the second bend in the road below the house.  They move slowly and methodically along the lines of vines and occasionally their voices float up towards us on the light breeze. This reminds me that there are several large bowls of grapes sitting accusingly in the fridge, together with the large box full bought for 80 cents at Leclerc on our first morning.  It seemed a good idea at the time, before we became the recipients of local generosity. 

A natural resistance to wasting food, made even more acute by the sheer pleasure of receiving such fresh and organically produced beneficence, obliges me to do something productive with the large bunches of black and white grapes we have received. Here are two of the solutions cooked up in the kitchen at Casa Barile.

Tipsy quail
Sear four quail in a little olive oil,  put into a casserole dish with pepper and salt, then pack down, round and under them a generous quantity of white grapes, stemmed and washed. Pour over a glass of Prosecco (which is what happened to be at hand, but any white wine will do.) Cover and pop into a medium oven for about 30 minutes until the quail are cooked.

Grapevines lining the driveway
Remove the birds and pop back into the oven in a small tin  for five minutes to crisp and brown the skin, then keep warm whilst you make the sauce. Keeping aside a couple of spoonfuls of grapes, push the rest with the cooking juices through a fine sieve, put into a small pan and reduce if required to a consistency of pouring custard.  In a small bowl, beat an egg yolk with a large dollop of plain yoghourt (or cream if you have it) then mix in a couple of tablespoons of the hot sauce before adding the egg mixture to the pan. Stir well over a very gentle heat, season to taste and serve with the quail, garnished with the reserved grapes.

Sober juice
Delicious though tipsy quail are, I realise that I need to scale up my grape management. So thanks to a Californian website,  and to a husband's prediliction for large, white, fine cotton handkerchiefs, we now have a virtuous beverage in the fridge to enjoy before the sun disappears over the yardarm.

Too hot to tread....
Take 2 kilos of black grapes, stripped from their bunches and washed. Put in a large saucepan and bash firmly with a potato masher. Then put on a low gas and bring to a gentle simmer. After five minutes give another vigorous mashing, to encourage  the juices to escape, and cook for another ten minutes. 

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth, or as in my case,  line a colander with a large freshly laundered handkerchief, and pour over a kettleful of boiling water.  Position the lined colander over a large bowl,  carefully ladle in the grape mash (advisable to wear a large apron or least favourite  clothing) and leave to drip through for several hours. 

To speed the process, after three  hours I tied the four corners of the handkerchief together with string and hung it from convenient doorknob over the bowl as if making jelly (see earlier blog Wild and free - or the art of self-preservation ). The weight of the mash helps to extract juice more quickly. 
Husband hard at work at his easel 

Then refrigerate the rich, gloriously coloured liquid and use within a week. Serve diluted with still or sparkling water and decorated with a sprig of mint, borage, lemon balm or whatever is to hand in fridge or garden. 

General notes: 
Yield is about 500 cl from 2 kilos of grapes. Handkerchief turns a stylish patrician purple, a useful description when explaining unconventional use to owner.

All photographs by Sandi

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