There's something special about a roasted grape: when roasted, its internal sugars caramelize, that thick skin softens and wrinkles, and the flavor matures into a much more intense version of its former self. And the juices that amass during roasting thicken on the baking sheet, yielding a nearly jam-like result when mixed with the roasted grapes. In short, it's a perfect thing to do for cheese platters.
Think of other sweet things so often paired with cheese: honey, membrillo, fig jam, dried fruit, and chutney. I hate to be unnecessarily dramatic, but roasted grapes may very well blow each of these standby accoutrements out of the park. They're seriously that good.
Roasted grapes go especially well with fresh or lightly aged goat cheese. They'd also be excellent atop some nice fresh ricotta. But truly, presented in a little dish with a spoon for serving, the grapes and its juices can top just about any cheese. Use baguette or another bread as a vehicle for your cheese, and you'll have happened upon a pretty impressive trifle.
Here's the trick: Roast your grapes with plenty of olive oil, salt, and freshly cracked black pepper. It's also nice to roast grapes with hardy herbs like thyme and rosemary. These savory elements will balance the sugar content of the grapes and make for a terribly convincing condiment for cheese. Red grapes will turn out looking nicer than green grapes; black grapes or large red globe grapes are great, too. It'll match any wine you're serving, too. How's that for synergy?
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 pounds red or black seedless grapes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 bunch rosemary or thyme (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
On a large, rimmed baking sheet, combine all ingredients, tossing with a spatula to combine. If using herbs, be sure to coat the branches with olive oil to prevent burning.
Transfer baking sheet to oven and roast, shaking pan intermittently, until grapes have burst and grape juice begins to thicken, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and transfer to serving vessel.
Roasted grapes will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Nora Singley)