Cooking with grapes: from chicken to colorful fruit tarts

With chicken one of the best buys at the supermarket most everyone serves it frequently and therefore a new way to prepare it is always welcome. Chicken with fresh grapes is a delightful combination, and although it might seem a bit unexpected this time of year, the ingredients are available because imported grapes are now in season.

Happily the growing season for grapes in South America is just the reverse from that of California and Arizona. So the same familiar varieties that your grocer receives in summer are now shipped during the winter from the Southern Hemisphere.

Look for the popular table grape varieties such as Tokay, Thompson Seedless, Almeria, Flame Seedless, Cardinal, Emperor and Ribier.

Bunches of imported grapes should be attractive, fresh looking with well-formed berries. Grapes don't ripen or improve in color or flavor after harvesting. They must be picked at the peak of perfection so color is a good indicator of ripeness.

Green grapes are the sweetest when they have a slightly amber tinge. Red or purple varieties should be free of green tinge and have a full, rich color.

Do not rinse the fruit until just before using. The dusty ''bloom'' is a natural protection against decay.

Keep a supply of fresh grapes in the refrigerator. You'll be glad there's something tasty for snacks or in one of the following recipes.

Chicken With Winter Grapes 1 cup imported winter red grapes 4 half chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 pounds), boned 1/2 teaspoon basil, finely crushed 1/4 teaspoon tarragon, finely crushed 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1/8 teaspoon white pepper 2 tablespoons flour 1 tablespoon oil 1 tablespoon butter 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced 1 cup chicken broth 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley Rinse, drain, halve and seed grapes to measure 1 cup. Remove skin from chicken, if desired. Cut each chicken breast in half, lengthwise. Blend herbs, salt, paprika, pepper and flour together. Toss with chicken strips.

Heat oil and butter in skillet. Add chicken and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown on one side. Turn chicken, add garlic, sprinkle on any leftover seasoned flour and add chicken broth. Cover and cook 5 minutes.

Add lemon juice and grapes. Cook, uncovered, 5 minutes or just until chicken is tender. Remove chicken and grapes to heated serving platter. Boil pan liquid a minute and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings. Chilean Grape Tarts 1 9-inch tart shell, baked, or 6 3 1/2-inch shells 3 to 4 cups seedless green or red imported winter grapes (or combination) 6 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup sifted flour 1 1/2 cups warm milk 1 tablespoon vanilla 4 almond macaroons, toasted and crumbled 1 cup apricot preserves 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon lemon juice Wash grapes well, dry with paper towels. Halve and remove seeds, if any, and set them aside. In a bowl combine egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar and beat until pale yellow and fluffy. Add flour and stir until thoroughly mixed. Add warm milk and whisk again. Pour mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until very thick and smooth. Pour immediately into a bowl and add vanilla.

Fold in macaroon crumbs and chill for 1 or 2 hours. Then fill baked tart shell or shells with chilled mixture and top with grape halves.

Prepare glaze by combining apricot preserves with 3 tablespoons sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Heat until sugar is completely dissolved and pass glaze through a fine sieve. While apricot glaze is still hot, brush it over the grapes. Makes 6 servings.

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