In the aftermath of the academic interview I had recently, I felt the need to treat myself to a little something out of the ordinary. I remembered that Rene Redzepi, the chef behind Copenhagen’s Noma, would be in town to promote his new cookbook, A Work in Progress
(you can also watch the book trailer, that strange modern invention, here
). While I’ll admit that I’ve been a little off cookbooks these days–to a certain extent, they’ve started to seem a little monotonous to me–I was intrigued by the premise of this book. I liked that it was a three-book set that offered an exploration of creativity in the kitchen through a journal, a book of snapshots and a “traditional” cookbook (whether the cookbook is actually usable is up for debate). Although “modernist cuisine” is not really my thing (I’ll admit that I once tried beet foam at a fancy restaurant in Northern California; while it tasted better than I expected, it’s not something I’d ever attempt to reproduce at home), I decided to buy a ticket not only to see what all the fuss was about, but also to have a bona fide evening out on a weeknight–a perk of my post-grad school existence that I’m still getting used to.
Somehow, a simple evening out became rather complicated when the weather decided to go a little crazy in mid-November, with an unsettling combination of rain, high winds and fog. At times, it was raining so hard that I wondered if it was even worth it to go all the way to the Mission and back, but I decided to persevere; opportunities like this don’t come along everyday. When I finally arrived at the theater with damp jeans and squishy shoes, I was somewhat baffled by the number of men in the audience; this was so different from previous food events I’ve attended. Then I remembered that Rene Redzepi, although a chef who is definitely easy on the eyes (Balkan roots), is also a member of the Lucky Peach gang; his language is brash and provocative, he swears a lot
and his books feature pictures of slaughtered animals (strangely, the haute couture
of the food world). I also quickly realized that the question wasn’t why there were so many men
in the audience, it was what in the world I
was doing in that crowd. Believe me when I say that I began to ask myself this with greater urgency when the drummer for Metallica came out to introduce Redzepi…It seemed so bogus, but it was also a fine example of the mysterious workings of pop culture. In today’s world, a rock star introduces a “rock” chef.
While I felt that things got off to a rocky start (no offense to Metallica, but I could have done without that introduction), the talk itself was inspiring and, somewhat surprisingly, tapped into the kinds of existential questions that we all struggle with: what is success? How do we push ourselves to take things to the “next level?” How do we find our creativity when we feel like we’ve lost it? Throughout the talk, Redzepi read excerpts from his journal; his thoughts were often raw, even tormented (a girl who studied Russian literature understands and appreciates the ramblings of a tormented genius): “I was burned out. Success is a marvelous thing, but it can also be dangerous and limiting…One month in Mexico and I’d realized the truth–I was scared, scared of losing the precious worldwide attention we’d stumbled into. All of us were…I also realized that we’d become confused about how to approach our creative efforts. We’d stopped having fun.” But at other times, they were downright funny and tongue-in-cheek, especially when he writes about his struggles to figure out how to cook and serve lamb brains or how his decision to serve ants (supposedly, they taste like lemongrass) to his generally wealthy clientele led to a debate in the Danish parliament.
Each excerpt from his book would segue into recorded footage from Noma. This format was particularly successful because, without the scenes from the restaurant, something essential would have been missing. It provided a way of seeing Redzepi’s and Noma’s philosophy–“trash cooking”–in action. Granted, I don’t know that trash cooking accurately describes what he and his team are doing at Noma, nor is it, when you get to the heart of the matter, a terribly new idea (in some countries, every piece of meat is used, insects are eaten with relish and foraging is a daily part of life). But I do suppose that it becomes new when applied not only to first-world countries that typically waste a lot of food, but, even more importantly, to the world of fine dining. After all, can you imagine going to a fancy restaurant and, knowing that you will pay about $300 for a prix fixe meal, be okay with being served creme fraiche with herbs and live ants? Such a thing requires a complete mental shift and perhaps it’s the need for this very shift in thinking that makes modern cuisine modern.
Despite my night out on the wild side of dining, the truth is that I’m still very much a traditionalist in the kitchen. Give me Deborah Madison, Ina Garten, Melissa Clark and Nigel Slater any day. But I will say this: I was persuaded by Redzepi’s claim that we all need to get back into the kitchen and just use our instincts. Watching his staff test ideas for a dessert made of kale, hazelnuts and apples and attempt to make a pig’s ear not only palatable but delicious was exciting. It reminded me that, as much as I like the structure of a recipe, that there’s something to be said about experimentation (in fact, I suspect this may be why Redzepi’s cookbooks are basically impossible to use; he invites you to borrow the idea, rather than to do exactly as he did). That being said, the experiment I’m going to offer you today–the grape galette that I hinted at long ago–is hardly as earth shattering as dehydrating apples and turning them into apple powder (the Greek did offer to buy me a refractometer so as to make some of these crazy recipes, but I politely declined) or as poetic a dessert as “An Apple Falls into the Grass” with apple compote and malt sticks. But it’s good and, when it comes to food, I think good should always trump interesting.
It took two tries before I got it right. The first try took place pre-Redzepi and, while it was tasty, it was nothing to write home about. I had made a vegan pie crust
that was surprisingly flaky, but somehow the grapes, which were from my CSA box and were sadly underwhelming, were neither juicy nor all that sweet. The addition of coconut, nutmeg and cinnamon helped, but I knew I needed to try again. The second attempt occurred post-Redzepi. The night after I went to his talk, I came home from work, looked in the refrigerator and found pie dough that needed to be used, extra crumble topping that I had been saving for a rainy day, more grapes and several apples slices that had been prepared for this pie
, but that didn’t make it in. It seemed like I could do some “trash cooking” of my own. I quickly rolled out the pie dough, added coconut flour to the base (to absorb the juices from the fruit) and then layered the apple slices and halved grapes. On top of this, I added the remaining almond crumble topping and about 1/3 cup of coconut and I brushed the edges of the dough with agave for a slightly smoky flavor After baking it for 40-50 minutes at 375 F (you want the grapes to become soft and juicy), I had achieved what I was looking for: a flavorful and sweet fall tart. In other words, my homage to the grape.
I wish I could say that I ended up making it for our Thanksgiving dinner because I think it would have been a nice note on which to end the meal, but, since I always make the Greek his favorite Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake and had my hands full preparing side dishes for a group of 10, I opted for something even simpler instead–a light and airy Chocolate Pavlova decorated with honeyed whipped cream, pomegranate arils and pieces of clementine. But the Grape Galette will have its day again; it makes for a delicious breakfast or a nice accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea on these increasingly chilly days.
Grape Galette with Apples and an Almond Coconut Crumble Topping
yields about 4-5 generous slices
This recipe can easily be made vegan–use coconut oil instead of butter and you’re good to go.
Also, because this recipe came from kitchen leftovers, I should add that the spices and other flavorings I mixed in with the fruit were inspired by the Four and Twenty Blackbirds
recipe for Salted Caramel Apple Pie that I link to earlier in the post.
While I know that I call this a Grape Galette, rather than an Apple and Grape Galette, that’s because the apples are just there to add a little bit of tartness; this is really a vehicle for the grapes to shine. This is why I suggest putting the apples on the bottom and the grapes on top; the grapes will also benefit from direct exposure to the heat.
For the dough:
1 recipe pie dough (here’s a link to my grandma’s dough
, to Hoosier Mama’s
in Chicago, to the dough
in the Thanksgiving issue of Saveur
and to the vegan dough
I made with coconut oil; I’ve tried them all and they all have their merits)
For the filling:
2 small apples, preferably tart ones like Granny Smith or Pink Ladies, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
about 200 grams (1/2 pound) red seedless grapes, halved
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Orange bitters
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or unsweetened shredded coconut
For the almond crumble topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup roughly chopped almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or freshly ground nutmeg
dash kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons coconut flour (or all-purpose) to absorb juices while baking
1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup for brushing the dough
-Preheat the oven to 375 F.
-Mix the apple slices, halved grapes, spices, coconut juice and lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the crumble and roll out the dough.
-Whisk together the dry ingredients for the crumble in a small bowl.
-Pour in the melted butter and mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
-Roll out the dough into a circle-like shape (it should have a diameter of roughly 12 inches) and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
-Sprinkle about 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut (or all-purpose flour) flour on the prepared dough.
-Remove the fruit from the fridge and arrange it (apples on the bottom and grapes on top) on top of the dough, leaving a 1-2 inch border around the edges.
-Starting with the edge closest to you, fold the dough toward the center. Then, continue working your way around the galette, folding the remaining dough toward the center. Lightly pinch the overlapping folds together so as to make sure that there are no cracks (if a visual aid will help, Claudia Fleming just make a beautiful crostata with Mark Bittman; here’s a link
to the video); otherwise, there might be a leak!
-Sprinkle the crumble topping on top of the fruit (if there is extra, refrigerate it and save it for another baking occasion) and brush the edges of the dough with maple syrup or agave (cream or a beaten egg).
-Place in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until the dough looks golden and the grapes have softened and turned juicy.
-Let cool for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before cutting.