They're the Marlon Brando of grapes: intense, explosive and round (think his later years).
Concord grapes - their dark blue-purple skins give them a brooding quality, and their stubborn seeds might amount to difficult behavior. But what makes them a premier talent of American grapes is their rich, distinctive, full-bodied flavor. No other grape compares.
Yet for far too long they've had "I-coulda-been-a-contender" status at markets. The grape that lent its trademark flavor to so much soda, juice and jelly has had an uneven career as a table grape.
Maybe it's because their "slip skin" makes them fragile; the skin is thick but isn't attached to the flesh as with European varieties, so the grapes don't hold up as well during shipping and storage. And then there are those seeds.
But fresh Concord grapes are so delicious. Pop one in your mouth, bite into it and the fruit explodes away from the skin. Once you work the seeds out, the sweet grape slides down like an oyster.
To cook with them is to discover a new level of lusciousness. Alice Waters has an easy grape preparation that works especially well with Concord grapes - roasting them whole on the vine.
Cut them into small, attractive bunches, drizzle them with olive oil and treat them to a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes. The warm, purple-juicy grapes burst through their skins during cooking.
Waters doesn't call for any other seasoning, but if you sprinkle them with Maldon sea salt, the crunchy-tender flakes are the perfect complement to the soft, sweet fruit.
They're great with sweet or savory dishes, on top of ice cream, or alongside grilled meat.
In fact, Concord grapes are generally fantastic with meat. Made into a wine reduction to sauce seared pork tenderloin medallions, they are reminiscent of fresh cherries. They get meltingly soft cooked in wine, their sweetness mitigated by garlic and shallots. The sauce takes on a deep-purple glazey shine.
At Talula's Table in Kennett Square, the Concord grape makes a frozen cameo as seasonal sorbet in tasting dinners, where pastry chef Claire Shears layers the intensely ripe, purple grape confection into a striped terrine with creamy goat's-milk gelato. Locally, at least two ice cream shops have also recognized the brilliance of the purplish-blue grape: the Franklin Fountain, on Market Street, is offering a Concord grape ice cream, as is the Bent Spoon in Princeton, which is making their ice cream this week from grapes growing on a garden trellis a block from the shop. (Talk about a local harvest!)
Chef Mark Peel makes a deep-flavored granita with Concord grapes, Beaujolais wine, whole cloves and black pepper at his restaurant in Los Angeles, Campanile. The result is gorgeous, with big grape flavor and the kick of pepper and clove.
Peel says you can substitute a Sonoma pinot noir for the Beaujolais. Neither should be more than 13 percent alcohol - anything higher can keep the granita from freezing, he cautions.
And Concord grapes are surprisingly suited to a traditional "schiacciata" Italian flat bread. It's a focaccia-type bread that's stretched and shaped by hand before small, dimplelike indentations are made all over the top of the bread with the fingers. Lightly sugared Concord grapes are sprinkled over the top of the bread before baking.
It's easy to seed the grapes by pressing the tip of a knife into the stem end of the grape and flicking out the seeds. But it's not necessary; you can leave the seeds in.
When the warm bread is removed from the oven, the scent of the grapes mixes with fennel, rosemary and orange peel. The jammy, luxurious Concords settle into the soft, fragrant bread.
Seeds are a small price to pay.
Pork Tenderloin With Concord Grape Sauce
Makes 4 servings
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick medallions (about 12)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup halved and seeded Concord grapes
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1. Using paper towels, pat any moisture from the surface of the pork medallions. Season the pork with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
2. In a heavy 10-inch skillet, heat the butter and oil over high heat. Add the pork medallions to the skillet and sear until nicely browned, 2 minutes. The meat should release easily from the pan when turning. Brown the other side for 30 seconds to 1 minute so the meat is still slightly underdone. Remove the pork medallions to a plate, cover and keep warm.
3. Reduce the heat to low. Add the shallots to the skillet and quickly saute for 1 minute, then add the garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add the grapes and saute, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Saute the grapes for 2 minutes until they begin to collapse. Add the red wine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, or to taste.
4. Place the medallions back into the skillet along with any drippings and simmer, spooning the sauce over the pork medallions as they warm, 1 to 2 minutes or until just pink in the center. Remove the meat from the skillet (leave the sauce in the pan) and arrange on a platter or on serving plates.
5. Add the butter to the pan, tilting the pan and swirling the butter until the sauce is slightly thickened. Spoon some of the sauce with the grapes over each serving.
Concord Grape Flatbread
Makes 16 servings
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
3 cups flour, divided, plus
additional for kneading
3 tablespoons plus 1
teaspoon olive oil, divided
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
11/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed, divided
11/2 teaspoons minced
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
11/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups Concord grapes (about 1 pound grapes)
1. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir to dissolve. Stir in 1 cup of the flour until smooth. Cover and let stand 1 hour.
2. Transfer the yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of the rosemary, the orange zest, and the salt. With a fork, beat in 1 cup of the flour until blended. Beat in the remaining 1 cup flour. On a lightly floured board, knead the dough for 5 minutes until smooth and satiny.
3. Place the dough into a large bowl lightly coated with 1 teaspoon olive oil and turn to coat all sides of the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and knead lightly for a minute, then pull and shape into a 16-inch-by-9-inch rectangle on a baking sheet.
4. In a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over low heat just until warm. Brush the top of the dough with it. Let the dough rise until puffy and doubled, about 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the grapes and pat dry. You can either remove the seeds from the grapes or leave them in. (They can be removed quite easily without cutting the grapes in half: Insert the tip of a small knife into the stem end of the grape and lift out the seeds.) Toss the grapes with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and let stand while the dough is rising.
6. Using your fingers, make random indentations to cover the entire surface of the bread, as with focaccia. Gently press the grapes into the indentations to keep them in place. Sprinkle the top of the bread with the remaining 1 teaspoon fennel. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until bread is browned and the grapes have popped open. Remove from the oven to a wooden board to cut into serving-size pieces.
Concord Grape Granita
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 pounds Concord grapes (about 6 cups stemmed grapes)
2 cups Beaujolais, divided
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
5 whole cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the grapes, 1 cup of the wine, the black pepper, cloves, and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining wine. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer, pressing the grapes with the back of a wooden spoon to extract any juice. Discard grapes.
2. Place the mixture in a wide, shallow glass baking dish and cover loosely with foil. Place the dish in the freezer, and leave it 2 to 3 hours until the granita freezes solid. Before serving, place the frozen granita in the refrigerator to soften slightly. To achieve a slushy texture, scrape the granita with a fork into serving bowls. Serve immediately.
Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles
Per serving: 135 calories; 1 gram protein; 25 grams carbohydrates;
no fat; no cholesterol; 4 milligrams sodium; 1 gram fiber.
Concord grapes are available at local grocery stores, including Whole Foods.