Champagne currants are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. A cross between red and white currants and closely related to the gooseberry, these blush-hued globes are one of my favorite treats of the year.
Although black currants may be too gutsy for palates when eaten raw (though they make for excellent sauces, jams, jellies and wine), the paler varieties, like white and champagne, are a bit thinner skinned and milder in flavor. Although these could be cooked down into a jam, I've always loved them best raw, partly because I can't bear the thought of ruining their good looks. Half of the delight is in admiring them.
Their skins look like frosted glass with delicate pinstripes; inside the seeds cast tiny shadows. Clustered together, each single berry no bigger than a pea, they could almost fit in a jewelry case.
The Barnard family of Door County Fruit Connection bring their currants to the Saturday Dane County Farmers' Market. They also sell tart and sweet cherries hauled down from Sturgeon Bay. Taste the wares and see what moves you. If the currants are too tart on their own, they can easily be cooked down into a jam; they're high enough in pectin that there's no need to add more. Another idea: currant wine, definitely on my to-do list.
I kept some of my champagne currants for snacking. The rest I decided to turn into a shaved fennel salad with pancetta, Walla Walla onions and fresh local mozzarella from Cesar's Cheese, with a currant-based dressing. A little honey in the dressing sweetens the deal. The fennel and the currants are pretty loud on their own, and I love the way the pancetta just takes it all in.
Shaved Fennel and Champagne Currant Salad
- 20 slices of pancetta
- 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
- 2 cups fennel bulbs, shaved
- 1 cup champagne currants
- 1/3 cup Walla Walla onion, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- fennel fronds (optional)
- white balsamic vinegar reduction (optional)
Gently pull currants off their stems; reserve broken ones for dressing. Combine fennel, currants, onion, salt and pepper and toss with enough dressing to coat.
On a plate, arrange four slices of pancetta. Serve about one-half to two-thirds cup of salad mixture on top. Top with slice of fresh mozzarella. Brush cheese with balsamic reduction if desired (simply bring vinegar to boil and reduce to half), then sprinkle with pepper and garnish with a fennel frond.
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 2 tablespoons champagne currants
- 1/2 tablespoon minced Walla Walla (or shallot or sweet onion)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix together vinegar, honey, onion and salt. Emulsify the dressing by whisking in grapeseed oil; start with a few drops at a time, and then work up to a steady stream. (The idea is to incorporate tiny bubbles of oil within the mixture so the dressing doesn't split. Once you work in the oil a few drops at a time at the beginning, you can add it much faster thereafter.) Whisk in currants until the berries break up. Set aside.