As satisfying as it is to sizzle big hunks of meat on a grill, it’s easy to forget that side dishes and vegetables also deserve some grill space. After all, everything tastes better with grill marks on it.
Most good grill masters will tell you that the secret to grilling is to arrange your fire so that you have a hot part of the grill and a not-as-hot part. The same system works for veggies. Dense, hard vegetables take the longest amount of time to cook so after they’ve got a good char from the hot side of the grill, move them over to the cooler area to slowly cook through. Otherwise, you’re going to have burnt outsides and raw insides, which nobody wants. Or, if you’d rather, you can pre-cook on the stove and just use the grill to get a finishing char.
It helps to bear in mind cooking times when cutting your veggies. Try to cut the pieces to a size that will get cooked through at about the same time the outside is nicely colored. So bigger pieces for things that cook quickly, smaller pieces for slower cookers.
If in doubt, oil it up. Not too much, that just adds unnecessary fat to your meal but tossing in a little olive oil gives your seasonings something to hang onto and with any luck, some of the oil will drip off into the hot coals and cause some flareups which are great for adding smokey flavor.
Go ahead and use skewers or a grill basket if you need it. Chasing cherry tomatoes around a grill rack is no fun and odds are, they’re going to end up rolling off into the coals, so thread them on a skewer. As a last resort, use some foil to make an impromptu grill basket. You won’t get grill marks but you will get some nice, smokey flavor.
And while you’ve got the foil out, sealed foil pouches buried in the coals are a great way to add some smokiness to dense root vegetables.
Grilled Bread Salad with Broccoli Rabe and Summer Squash
For the mayonnaise marinade:
1 cup full-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil
2 lemons, juiced and zested (about 1/4 cup lemon juice)
2 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
1 tbsp. cumin seed
For the grilled vegetables and bread salad:
2 or 3 mixed summer squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2 inch-thick rounds
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (or young, tender broccoli)
Four 1/2-inch slices from the center of a loaf of crusty bread (ciabatta or sourdough works well)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil for brushing bread
Olive oil for brushing grill grate
Handful of torn basil and mint for garnish
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or toasted, chopped almonds
Extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice, to taste
To prepare the broccoli rabe: remove thick, tough lower ends of stalks. Split lengthwise any stalks that are more than 1/2-inch thick. If you are using young, tender broccoli, prepare it in the same way.
To prepare the mayonnaise marinade: In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt, smoked Spanish paprika, Aleppo pepper, and cumin seed until smooth and emulsified.
To prepare the vegetables: To the bowl of marinade, add the summer squash. Rinse the broccoli rabe thoroughly to remove any grit hiding among the leaves. Add it to the bowl with the summer squash, then toss with the marinade to coat the vegetables evenly. (Don’t dry the broccoli rabe after rinsing — the bit of water clinging to the leaves will thin the marinade and gently steam the stalks as they’re grilling, allowing any tough stalks to get tender.) Allow the vegetables to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes, tossing once or twice to make sure they’re evenly coated.
To prepare grill: Meanwhile, prepare a gas grill with all burners on medium, or a prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals. Brush the grilling rack with olive oil. To grill the vegetables: When the grill is ready, arrange the summer squash rounds evenly across the grill grate. Grill for a few minutes on each side, or until tender and nicely blistered in spots. Remove the squash from grill. Next, arrange the broccoli rabe in a single layer on the grill. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until tender and blistered in spots. (Taste if you’re unsure if the stalks are tender.) If the stalks are charring quickly but aren’t tender, spray or drizzle a few drops of water on them. Remove from the grill and place on a large platter or sheet pan to cool. (You don’t want to stack the broccoli rabe while it’s still hot because it’ll lose its crisp, papery texture.)
To grill the bread: Brush each slice of bread (top and bottom) with about about 1 tablespoon of oil, or enough to evenly and thoroughly coat each side. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Grill the bread on both sides, checking frequently, until charred in spots, a few minutes per side. Turn down the heat if needed. You want the bread to be crusty but soft in the middle. When the bread is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
To assemble salad: On a large serving platter, place the bread cubes, grilled broccoli rabe, and summer squash. Garnish with toasted nuts, basil, and mint. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Grilled Vegetable Vinaigrette
Makes 2 cups
1 medium fennel bulb, outer layer, stalks and fronds removed, root end trimmed of brown bits
1 small red onion (about 1/4 pound), cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
1 small head radicchio (outermost leaves removed, bottom trimmed of brown bits, quartered lengthwise) and cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. flaky sea salt
1 small garlic clove, very finely chopped
A five-finger pinch of fresh mint leaves
A five-finger pinch of fresh marjoram leaves
Halve the fennel bulb lengthwise and cut each halfway through the root nub (so the wedges stay intact) into about 1-inch-thick wedges. Heat a grill or heavy grill pan over high heat until it’s good and hot, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add fennel, onion and radicchio. Cook, turning vegetables over occasionally, until fennel and onion are lightly charred in spots and cooked through, but still have a little bite, about 20 minutes. The radicchio is done when the stems are tender but still have a little bite, the leaves are wilty, the tips crackly, about 15 to 20 minutes. As they finish, pop the grilled vegetables into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until they’ve cooled fully. They’ll steam a bit and cook some more as they cool. Once they’ve all cooled, chop the vegetables into a mix of about 1/2-inch pieces, some smaller and some larger. Pop the vegetables back into the bowl, add the oil, vinegar, salt and garlic, and stir really well. Toss the mint and marjoram together on a cutting board, give them a rough chop and stir them into the dressing. Store leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge for up to 5 days, though the herbs will fade.
Grilled Swiss Chard Stems with Anchovy Vinaigrette
2 ounces anchovies (preferably salt-packed, cleaned, rinsed, and soaked in a few changes of milk, see below)
1/2 ounce minced garlic (about 3 small cloves)
3/4 cup + 4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (or more to taste)
To soak anchovy fillets, cover in milk by about an inch for 12-24 hours, changing the milk once or twice. Taste them periodically for saltiness. They’re ready when they have the level of saltiness you like. If over-soaked, they could end up very bland. Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until well combined but still a little chunky. This makes a large quantity. It keeps well and tastes good on everything.
Grilled Swiss Chard Stems
Stems from 1 large bunch Swiss chard (save greens for another use)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Splash sherry vinegar
Wash the chard stems, cut off any dark edges, and cut into 5 to 6-inch lengths. Blanch stems in salted boiling water in batches till just tender, about 2 minutes per batch, then transfer to an ice bath. It is very important to follow all the rules of blanching and not overcrowd the pot. Any shortcuts here results in the color turning black. Dry the blanched stems, toss them lightly with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place them on the grill in a single layer. Grill long and slow until they become quite dark and charred but not burned. Toss with the Anchovy Vinaigrette and a splash of sherry vinegar. Serve warm.
Serves 4 as a side dish
For the smoked beets:
8 small beets, with greens if possible
1 small bunch fresh rosemary
For the salad:
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 small bunch fresh tarragon or basil, leaves picked and roughly chopped
4 heaped tablespoons cottage cheese
Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon, plus more to taste
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
First, light your charcoal barbecue or fire. Wash the beets and snip off the greens, reserving them. Fold a large piece of foil — about 12-18” (24-36” unfolded), depending on the size of your beets — in half to form a double layer. Lay the greens, then the beets, then the rosemary on top of the foil. (Note: if you don’t have greens with your beets — or want to save them to cook separately — that’s okay, just make sure the coals are at medium heat, not flaming, when you add your packet of beets.) Roll up the foil, folding in the edges and twisting the ends together. Stab the foil a few times all over with a knife to allow the smoke to get inside and flavor the beets. Lift the rack of your barbecue with tongs and carefully insert your foil package among the coals, making sure you place some coals on top too. Leave it to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the beets are tender, then remove the package and allow it to cool down. Unwrap it and remove the beets, discarding the greens and rosemary sprigs. Once cooled slightly, peel the beets and discard the charred skin. The skins should slip right off, but if they don’t, gently scrape them away with the back of a paring knife. Cut the beets into irregular chunks and place in a bowl. Add the vinegar, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and half the parsley and tarragon. Toss, have a taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Put the cottage cheese into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated zest from half your lemon. Stir in 2 glugs of extra virgin olive oil, the thyme leaves and some salt and pepper and gently fold it all together, so the oil and lemon marble through the cottage cheese. Taste the dressing and squeeze in a bit more lemon juice if you like. To serve, divide the dressed beets between four salad plates. Top each plate with a spoonful of cottage cheese dressing. Scatter over the remaining herbs.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.