Roasted Grapes, Cheese and Caramelised White Onion Bread
Portion/Yield:Serves 6 (2 mini breads per serving)
There is nothing better than a bottle of good, full-bodied red wine and a deliciously fragrant cheese to enjoy in good company on a cold, lazy evening in front of a crackling fire. I’m a cheese fanatic and love them creamy, pungent and runny! Stinking Bishop, Vacherin Mont-d’Or, Époisses de Bourgogne and Oxford Isis are the kind of cheeses that I like.
I love shopping for cheese, but it can be a bit embarrassing taking them home on the train. It happened to me once, when without thinking, I bought some weird and wonderful smelly cheeses in London and then had to make my way home on the train. Well, all I need to say is that I had the seat all to myself for the whole journey! This was soon forgotten though, once I tucked in at home, as the pleasure and enjoyment of the delicious cheeses took over.
We consume a lot of cheese at home. I love cooking with it and sometimes it’s the perfect partner in crime when I’m simply in need of relaxing and nibbling on something savoury.
My mother used to have this thing about always having bread in the house, and she used to say that if there was not a fresh loaf of bread in the bread bin, then there was no food to eat. I feel the same about cheese. My fridge can be almost bare, but if I have some cheese, then I have food and I can create a wonderful, filling and nutritious meal; perhaps it’s a strange superstition?!
Serving cheese as an actual course can sometimes be a bit of an afterthought. Some people think that simply placing a selection of cheese from the fridge on a plate with a few crackers from the cupboard is a problem solved. Well, I feel strongly about giving it plenty of thought. Planning the perfect cheese course to complement your meal is not to be taken lightly. It’s important to choose the right accompaniments for your chosen cheese selection, and letting the cheese breathe and come to room temperature before serving is also important. Award-winning author Fiona Beckett wrote this wonderful book called Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course in which she tells you how to serve and enjoy all the various cheeses. It’s an excellent read.
I think that the way a cheese course is put together says a million words about a host. For example, if you plate the individual slithers of cheese, it could mean that the host is either in a rush to get rid of you or they are counting the pennies. If there is plenty of cheese and different types, and they are presented on sharing platters, then it means that the host wants their guests to mingle, chat and be relaxed for hours to come.
Then there is the debate about when to serve the cheese, before the pudding or after. My personal preference is after the pudding, as I like to ponder over the cheese, relax and nibble at leisure.
For this recipe, I serve a selection of cheeses with a roasted grape purée and freshly-baked caramelised white onion breads. Delicious!
Ingredients & Method
For the roasted grape purée
- 500g black seedless grapes
For the caramelised white onion breads
- 30g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 110g (prepared weight) onions, sliced
- 200g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 15g fresh yeast or 7g fast-action dried yeast
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 100ml hand-hot water
- 25ml extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- a selection of cheeses of your choice
For the roasted grapes, preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper, then dampen the paper and crumple it slightly around the edges, forming a cup shape, which will help to retain the grape juices in the middle of the baking tray. Wash the grapes and remove all the stalks. Use a metal skewer or cocktail stick and make 2–3 holes in each grape. Place the grapes on the prepared baking tray, then roast (uncovered) in the oven for about 50 minutes or until they are completely collapsed and almost jam-like.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly, then purée the roasted grapes (and any juices) until they are very smooth. Transfer to a sterilised jar or suitable container, leave to cool, then cover and store in the fridge and use within a week. This recipe makes about 200ml roasted grape purée.
For the caramelised onion breads, grease a 12-hole muffin tin and set aside. First make the caramelised onions. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, then add the onions along with some salt and pepper, and sauté for 6–8 minutes until golden brown. Begin with a high heat and then once the onions start to take on some colour, place a lid on the pan, reduce the heat and leave until the onions are cooked through and caramelised. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, make the bread dough. Weigh the flour and yeast into a mixing bowl. If you use fresh yeast, rub it into the flour using your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs; if you are using dried yeast, simply stir it into the flour. Add the measured salt, the warm water and the oil and work the ingredients together to make a dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 6–8 minutes or until it feels silky and smooth. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean, dry tea towel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and knock it back, then roll it out into a rectangle (about 30–35cm x 20–25cm). Spread the cooled caramelised onions evenly over the dough, then roll up the dough into a sausage or log shape. Cut the sausage widthways into 12 even pieces and then place each one, cut-side up, into a greased muffin hole. Cover the muffin tin with a clean, dry tea towel and leave to prove in a warm place until the breads have risen.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Bake the breads in the oven for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden brown (they should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Remove from the oven, then turn them out on to a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve warm or cold.
Serve the chilled roasted grape purée and caramelised onion breads (serve 2 mini breads per portion) with a selection of cheeses of your choice. As part of the cheese selection, I like to serve a milder rind-washed cheese, such as Cornish Camembert or similar, and I let the cheeses come to room temperature before serving to bring out their full characters.