A simple, tart, savory meal or appetizer. This earthy, summery, fruity bruschetta can be hovered over and devoured in-between slurps of deep, forest-y red wine. It’s the kind of impromptu meal that has the restorative power to set you right – after a topsy-turvy time of feeling not-quite-yourself.
Roasted to tart perfection, these gooseberries make a full-bodied appetizer or small meal by the addition of deep, earthy, aged goat’s cheese and fresh rosemary.
Let’s take a peek into my journal and learn a little about gooseberries.
What are gooseberries?
Gooseberries (ribus grossularia), despite looking like grapes, are (as their name suggests) berries. They belong to the genus “ribes”. Other fruits belonging the the ribes family include currants. There is a popular black currant beverage in the UK called “Ribena”. I never knew why it was called “Ribena” until I started studying gooseberries. “A-ha!”, I thought.
Where are they from?
Gooseberries are indigenous to parts of Europe and Asia – mainly in cooler climates. Historians have failed to find any evidence of them in studies of ancient Rome, and the presumption is because of climate.
What do they look like?
Gooseberries are large, orb-like fruits that have loosely laying edible seeds throughout, like currants. The size and quantity of the seeds of gooseberries are similar to the seeds of raspberries or blackberries – only the gooseberry seeds are inside the whole of the fruit. The skin of a gooseberry is tight, shiny, and partially translucent with small veins visible upon inspection. There are red gooseberries and green gooseberries. The green are more tart. In ancient times, these seeds were harvested, dried, pulverized and used as diabetes medicine. No word or evidence of the effectiveness thereof. Gooseberries are grown on thorny shrubs, individually – not in clusters like grapes.
To avoid any confusion I mention that a cousin of the gooseberry; the bright orange “Cape Gooseberry” also known as “Peruvian Groundcherry” is not a member of the ribes family – but a nightshade – like tomatoes and peppers.
Why are gooseberries so rare in the United States?
Gooseberries were banned in the United States in the early 1900’s because they (and other ribes like currants) were found to be an intermediate carrier of the fungus “Blister Rust”, a destroyer of white pine. To protect white pine and the pine industry, all gooseberries and other ribes were ordered destroyed and banned. This is why you won’t find very many gooseberry recipes in cookbooks after 1930 or in modern culture. Although a reference to them was placed in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). I can only suppose that they were included as a nod to “olden times”, as the writers must have remembered some kind of refrence to them by elders.
In the 1960’s the ban was lifted, and the decision was left to individual states. Today, you can find gooseberries everywhere in the United States, except Maine where they still pose a threat to White Pine. As you can probably imagine, demand for gooseberries and currants is not high, as after over 100 years, we aren’t quite sure what to do with them.
How are gooseberries typically eaten?
Gooseberries are typically used in Europe in jams and preserves. They are also used in pies, but with the high water content in the berries, they don’t exactly make the kind of pie we are used to today.
I have written a recipe for gooseberry bruchetta – a savory (not sweet) dish. I have found that the tartness and juiciness pair very well with olive oil and goat’s cheese.
So, if you DO see some gooseberries in your local market, think “Oh, this is what Shannon was talking about”. Maybe even give them a try with this easy recipe that is designed for our modern tastes.
Prepare the gooseberries by running them under cool water, and gently drying on a cotton towel or with paper towels. Carefully pinch off the stems and the old blossoms on the bottom of the berry. The old blossoms will be dry and easy to pluck.
A rustic artisan bread makes a perfect base. This is a Zwiebelbrot (onion bread) from our local bakery here in Germany. A few days old; it’s perfect for bruschetta.
Fresh cracked pepper is recommended for this recipe. I am using a mixed pepper blend for this recipe. it’s light and full and smoky.
On a heavy baking pan, arrange the gooseberries and set the oven to 400°F. Drizzle the gooseberries with extra virgin olive oil. Roll the berries around so they are coated in oil, thoroughly. Then dust with salt and pepper. Roast on a high rack for about 20 minutes or until the skins are blistery and slightly singed.
While the gooseberries are roasting, pluck a sprig of rosemary off your rosemary plant.
Chop the rosemary leaves roughly. You won’t need a whole block of aged goat’s cheese to make this recipe, just a few slices, turned into cubes. Aged goat’s cheese is a hard cheese. It has a deeper, stronger flavor than a fresh chèvre.
The gooseberries are nicely roasted here. The skins have burst, releasing the juices to the pool of olive oil. The skins of the berries are blistered and beautifully singed in places, which adds a deep roast-y, caramelized flavor.
Add the aged goat’s cheese and rosemary as soon as the gooseberries come out of the oven and are still sizzling on the pan. You’ll be treated to the immediate release of aroma from the rosemary, and the creamy, earthiness of the cheese.
If you’d like to use fresh goat’s cheese (which is soft), I recommend slathering the soft cheese on the toast before you top it with the roasted gooseberries and NOT adding it to the hot pan. It will melt into a soup. Which might be good. So you choose.
Arrange the toasted bread on a serving platter.
Spoon the tart, soupy mixture over the toast.
Serve immediately, with extra juices for dipping. Excellent with a deep red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 2-3 cups gooseberries
- 3-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 cup cubed aged goat's cheese
- 2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
- 8-12 slices rustic/artisan bread
- Prepare the gooseberries by running them under cool water, and gently drying on a cotton towel or with paper towels. Carefully pinch off the stems and the old blossoms on the bottom of the berry. The old blossoms will be dry and easy to pluck.
- Arrange the gooseberries on a baking pan and set the oven to 400°F.
- Drizzle the gooseberries with extra virgin olive oil. Roll the berries around so they are coated in oil, thoroughly.
- Dust with salt and pepper.
- Position the pan of berries near the top of the oven, and roast for about 20 minutes, or until the berries have cooked down in the oil (see video).
- While the berries are roasting, lay the bread slices on a rack at the bottom of the oven. Toast until desired crispness.
- Immediately after removing the berries from the oven, add the aged goat's cheese and the rosemary to the pan.
- Add more salt, if desired.
- Arrange the toasted bread on a serving platter. Spoon roasted gooseberries and goat's cheese mixture over the bread.
- Serve immediately, with extra juices for dipping. Excellent with a deep red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon.