“So I think I’m going to make a grape and lavender tart. I found a recipe on Martha Stewart,” I nonchalantly told BF.
“Grape and lavender? Why?” BF seemed curious about this one. It wasn’t the most straightforward recipe to be sure. In fact, I doubt he had ever seen or conceptualized a grape dessert before. It wasn’t like they were on the menus of every restaurant.
“Well,” I sighed, “to be honest it’s because, One: I’m intrigued by the idea of it. Two: It sounds kinda terrible to me but also sorta tasty. See, the idea of cooked grapes to me actually seems rather unpleasant. Grapes have a flavor that I think is best cold or even frozen -” I love to freeze grapes as a snack, “-and the idea of them being served hot just sounds groady. I imagine them tasting rather sickly sweet and having a texture of hot boiled mash with nasty strings of curled grape skins.”
“I assume the lavender is a part of this, too?”
“Exactly. Lavender is a tricky food. Few people can cook with it well and fewer even know how much to use when they do. I’ve had great experiences when it was used on a turkey as part of a salt rub and enjoyed some whipped cream touched with lavender, but other than that… I dunno. It’s quick to go from floral fragrance to being snuffed out with the fume of a grandmother’s panty drawer.”
“Yeah, I thought you'd like that comparison. So, this is just a grand experiment to see if I can get myself to like both cooked grapes and try lavender in a new way. Hopefully it’ll be awesome. It may just be alright. Possibly, it may taste like the sins of a used up, overly made-up, tranny hooker baked in a pie crust.”
“Nice,” he said and turned to leave the room.
“Ha ha! Man, I am on a roll today.”
This wasn’t my first stroll down this particularly unusual avenue of cooking. I had traveled this route many times, mapping out my various culinary distastes and challenging them in all sorts of ways. Too many jaunts down lima bean alley left me to realize that I simply don’t care for them in any way, and that I had my mother’s terrible and overcooked turkey soup to blame for this. A surprise run-in with Brussels sprouts and its retinue of Parmesan cheese and garlic showed me just how much I enjoyed the little cruciferous’ company on my plate. I have had enough encounters with spaghetti squash to know that given the chance I would lock them all up in a cell and throw away the key, the nasty little things. I attempted cooking with eggplant once years ago after being more than a bit nervous of them. These days we’re the best of friends.
So I would try with grapes and lavender.
My internship in the pastry department at Grange had given me some confidence that grapes could effectively be used in a dessert that wasn’t a cheese plate. The pastry chef, Elaine, had crafted a beautiful fall dessert: a triangle of Point Reyes blue cheesecake sitting on a square of hazelnut pie dough. It was served with a shard of hazelnut brittle. To granish we halved and seeded a variety of heirloom grapes served in a light Concord grape and port suace.
The task of making this sauced grape component took hours of mind-numbing, back breaking, finger pricking labor as I stood bent over a table cutting grapes apart with my pairing knife. Still, the trouble was worth it. Those grapes made the blue cheese blush in a resplendent, winey sweetness.
I knew a grape dessert could be done. However, I had only experienced it cold. Still, Martha was Martha. Her recipes were usually a success, though a few had been terrible failures which afterward, grimacing at the result, left me wondering how they made it out of the test kitchen. I wondered, of course, would this tart be the same as her brandy cookies or chocolate shortbread that had both gone to pot rather than the cookie jar?
A lot of my favorite foods used to be ones I used to despise or feared. I’m a fan of the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It applies appropriately to the culinary world, especially to those picky eaters who reside within it.
And we all can be picky eaters at times. There are a few foods I myself don’t like. Again, take spaghetti squash. I’m pretty sure that no dish will sway me in my opinion that the tangled, stringy mess tastes like anything but Satan’s pubic hair. Yet, if someone insists I try just a bite of it the way they’ve cooked it and I feel it’s unique enough from other dishes I’ve tasted then by all means put some on my plate.
Adventurous eating starts at home, after all.
A few times I’ve been persuaded. My friend found a way to get me to eat zucchini by lightly sautéing it over high heat and dressing it with fresh tarragon. I can no longer resist the siren-green call of Romano beans – a vegetable I once renounced for life – when they’re lightly steamed and tossed with lime and mint.
So the grape tart was made. I spent an hour halving and seeding each grape. I tossed them with lemon, lavender, and flour. I folded it all into some pate brisse and let it all bake. Then the magic. The smell of it cooking was deep, heavy of grapes; a smell as reminiscent of early fall as the first chill wind and the few scattered leaves that just begin to litter the streets.
Out it popped to cool and a few minutes later slices were served.
The tart? Amazing. Stunning. It was both bright in perky flavors from the lemon and tart grape skins while the cooked sugar and fruit had bubbled down into a moody, sweetwine syrup. The grapes weren’t mushy but rather intriguing as each variety retained a different sturdiness in texture.
The lemon provided a pleasant sprightliness but the lavender took center stage. It was elusive, almost intangible. Just when you finally got a hint of that floral, delicate flavor that swirled with the grapes so well, it was gone. Impossible to pin down and savor for its complexity all I could do was take another bite to try and find it again.
So once again this familiar street of re-evaluating the foods I fear or may not fully understand had lead me to new place. One where grapes could be used in hot desserts and lavender was more than just a dainty flavoring without real direction.
“Wow,” said BF, “this is really good. I have to admit I wasn’t exactly excited when you told me that this is what you would be making.”
“Yeah,” I replied as I served myself another slice, “neither was I.”
Grape and Lavender Galette
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 recipe pâte brisée (this will give you two pie crusts, save the other for another project or make this recipe into a pie with a top crust)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
4 cups assorted seedless grapes, halved and large seeds removed (budget some time for this as it can take a while)
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 425F and line the bottom with foil as there is a good chance you'll have some juice bubble over and this will prevent the oven from getting all 'effed up. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out a disc of dough out 12-inches and about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for thirty minutes.
2. In a bowl toss together the sugar, flour, lemon juice and zest, salt, grapes, and lavender. Transfer to a sieve and set over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes. Place egg in a bowl and lightly whisk, set aside.
3. Mound grape mixture into the center of the chilled dough leaving a 2 1/2-inch border. Dot with butter. Brush dough with egg and dust with sugar.
4. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, loosely cover the center with foil, and continue to bake until the juices are bubbling, about 15-20 minutes more. Let cool for 10-20 minutes and serve.