A few weeks ago, my husband brought home a rather large amount of seedless red grapes. They were the size of marbles and looked like they would pucker your lips. Instead they were delicious and sweet. But they lingered in the fridge and began to wrinkle like the tips of your fingers after a long hot bath. Didn’t give it much thought until I got a Facebook message from Nancy at Expendable Edibles. She and her partner are in the business of making sure people discover fascinating ways to use the odds and ends in the refrigerator: the last dregs of vinegar, the dehydrated knob of ginger, two pieces of leftover soppressata, a gnarled carrot. Nancy, who, after seeing the large photo of my Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes (from Radically Simple) in the New York Times queried, “Hey, couldn’t you use oldish, wrinkled grapes for that dish? After all, that’s the way they wind up after roasting?!” I liked the question and the theoretical construct. Using pre-wrinkled grapes already gave you a head start! More importantly, though, not throwing those grapes away benefits the planet — and stretches the family grocery bill. “Of course the sun does some of this for us already,” I thought, as I contemplated the inverse evolution of some of our favorite foods — grapes into raisins, plums into prunes, ripe tomatoes into sun-dried tomatoes, botrytised grapes into Sauternes. I’m certain there are others, some of them are lurking in your fridge.
In addition to that gorgeous chicken dish, however, is another splendid recipe that features grapes as a prime ingredient: “Grape and Pignoli Breakfast Cake.” A huge hit from Eat Fresh Food, my cookbook for teenage chefs, no one (including adults!) can resist the pleasure of pushing grapes, one by one, into the batter. I will be using the last of my wrinkled grapes this morning with a nod to the girls at Expendable Edibles. Look for my “live interview” with them tomorrow.
Grape-and-Pignoli Breakfast Cake
Not too sweet, but full of flavor, this moist breakfast cake is an original spin on more ordinary coffee cakes. My daughter, Shayna, is a grape freak and thinks the cake is “divine.” It lasts several days in a tightly-covered tin. And yes, you can use slightly wrinkled grapes.
12 ounces red seedless grapes (not too large)
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons pignoli nuts (pine nuts)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the grapes and discard stems. Dry well and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/2 cup olive oil,vanilla, lemon zest, and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Blend thoroughly. Stir in the flour and mix well until smooth. Use 1 tablespoon oil to grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and pour in the batter. Place the grapes evenly, about 1/4-inch apart, in concentric circles on top of the batter to cover the entire surface. Press the grapes halfway into the batter. Scatter pignoli evenly on the cake and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake 45 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool. Serves 8 to 10