Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. Vacations are done. School’s under way. We’re back to the work-a-day world. The proper rite of passage is a truly fabulous fling on the backyard grill.
The potential menu is limitless. But anybody can grill steaks, burgers and bratwurst. We’ve done that all summer. Now let’s try something different. Let’s do a vegetarian grill-out. It can even be vegan, except for the occasional use of cheese. And it’s always fun to figure out wine matches.
Here are some possibilities:
Simple grilled vegetables: Try half-inch-thick slices of tomato, zucchini, eggplant, summer squash, red or green bell peppers, Vidalia onions, portobello mushrooms. Simply brush with oil or Italian dressing and grill over medium heat until softened and charred a bit. You can make these an hour ahead and serve at room temperature.
Now let’s add some more unexpected veggies:
• Big carrots: These are peeled and simmered a few minutes to soften, then brushed with oil, sprinkled with rosemary and plopped over a medium fire long enough to get those tasty grill marks. Delicious.
• Cabbage: Start with a medium head cut in eight wedges, with the core left on to hold them together. Brush with oil, grill over medium heat until they reach the char and tenderness you like, brush again with Italian dressing or garlic butter, and serve hot.
• Grilled Caesar salad: Cut heads of romaine lettuce in two, lengthwise, again leaving the core. Brush with Caesar dressing. Grill on each side until charred and wilted a bit. Brush with more dressing. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.
• Grilled tofu: Buy extra-firm tofu, drain, pat dry, cut into half-inch slices, marinate 30 minutes in your favorite marinade, grill two to three minutes per side. Serve with a zingy salsa.
Wine matches for a vegetarian grill-out tend toward whites, rosés and light-bodied reds — even hard ciders. The herbal flavors of white sauvignon blanc go well with the herbal flavors of simply grilled veggies. The smoky flavors of grilled romaine lettuce and cabbage go well with an oaky chardonnay.
When you add tomato sauce and cheese to grilled veggies, they go well with rosés or light-bodied reds like Chianti-style wines and dry, red Valpolicella. Grilled fruits and cake match nicely with a sweet wine such as the pink moscato. Any sweet white dessert wine would do.
I’ve always argued that the true joy of wine is its infinite variety. An all-vegetable grill-out is a good chance to put that to the test. Your friends will talk about it for years. For good or ill. You know them better than I.
Highly recommended: 2012 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: youthful and lively, with aromas and flavors of fresh herbs and white grapefruit; $15.
• 2012 Morgan “Metallico” Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands: pure flavors of pineapples and lemons, crisp acids, light and lively; $22.
Recommended: 2012 McManis Family Vineyards Chardonnay, River Junction: hint of oak, flavors of white peaches and apricots, full-bodied; $10.
• 2012 Hahn Family Pinot Gris, Monterey: light, delicate and crisp, with lemon and kiwi flavors and a hint of sweetness; $14.
• Nonvintage “Casamatta Rosso,” Toscana, IGT (a Chianti-style red wine): delicate tart cherry flavors, light body, light tannins; $14.
• 2011 Murphy-Goode Pinot Grigio: light and crisp, with flavors of ripe pears and golden apples; $13.