Every year, when the red flame grapevines in my garden leaf out, I contemplate dolmas—grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb and seasonings. I’ll get to them. If nothing else, looking forward to the incredible grape-jelly perfume during the blanching of the leaves before stuffing kick-starts that project at least once a season. The fruit is still smaller than pea-size right now, but it’s profuse, so maybe we’ll actually get to taste some later in summer. One year, a raccoon family, who’d clearly been watching and testing for ripeness just as we were, cleaned the vines in a single night. There’s little competition for the leaves, however—they don’t even attract bugs.
Cookbook author Elizabeth David provided my second-favorite grape-leaf dish, variations of which appear in at least a couple of her books. In it, mushrooms are baked in a cradle of vine leaves, a treatment that’s said to give a wild earthiness to cultivated mushrooms. I’m not convinced they actually taste wild done this way, but the leaves definitely add a delicious, floral element—and tasting very, very good is good enough for me. The grape-leaf perfume, garlic-tinged in this case, is delicate and mysterious during cooking, then whooshes out to fill the room when the vessel’s lid is lifted. Thin, richly flavored cooking juices are a delicious bonus. These mushrooms are a great low-effort, high-return side dish for just about any menu.
If you don’t grow your own grape leaves, maybe a neighbor does. I’ve seen them occasionally at farmers markets, and in the produce section of some Middle Eastern markets, which are also good sources of jarred grape leaves. Don’t hesitate to use the latter—just be sure to give them a rinse first.
Mushrooms Roasted With Grape Leaves
(Makes 6 to 8 servings as a side dish)
12 to 18 grape leaves (rinsed if jarred)
1-1/2 pounds white or brown mushrooms, cleaned
4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Gently remove mushroom stems.
Lightly oil or spray a 1-1/2 to 2-quart ovenproof cooking vessel, preferably with lid. With half of grape leaves, line bottom and partway up sides. Distribute mushrooms over grape leaves; tuck in garlic cloves. Drizzle evenly with olive oil, and generously salt and pepper. Layer remaining grape leaves over mushrooms.
Place lid on vessel, or cover tightly with foil, and bake in preheated oven 1 hour.
Serve hot, with cooking juices.