Editor’s note: This story originally published in The Bee in May 2012.
Ah yes, the savory smoke wafting from backyards and other outdoor environs signals that outdoor grilling season is well underway. And we’re especially spoiled in the Sacramento area, given that we can grill outdoors for more than half the year.
As much as a well-slathered rack of ribs, smoked salmon or beer can chicken sounds great right about now, let’s not limit the grill to items that once walked or swam. From fruits and vegetables to pizzas and even desserts, plenty of foods benefit from outdoor grilling.
Plus, vegetables work especially well to balance a hefty feast of slow-cooked meats and sauces. For Adam Perry Lang, author of “Charred & Scruffed” (Artisan Books, $24.95. 280 pages), bitter greens are a must when it comes to a barbecue meal.
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“The traditional style of barbecue tends to be rich in collagen, very rich in fat, and you need contrast,” said Lang, who’s worked at Michelin-starred restaurants and won top honors on the competitive barbecue circuit.
“Otherwise, you’re just eating and filling yourself – what I call ‘no break in the action.’ Bitter accentuates in a positive way. Beer goes well with barbecue because it has that hoppy bitterness.”
Lang likes to complement his barbecues with charred radicchio with sweet-and-sticky balsamic and bacon. The bacon-wrapped radicchio goes directly on the grill, with the resulting char emphasizing the radicchio’s bitter nature. Add the balsamic’s tang and some savory bacon, and you’ll find a wide flavor profile in a small bite.
“It absorbs into those crevices,” Lang said. “This is the seesaw of flavors, and I feel like (bitter greens) also kind of help digestion in a way.”
Other kinds of leafy vegetables work, too. Romaine and iceberg lettuce, endive and even dandelion greens are sturdy enough to hold up on a heated grill.
On the sweeter side, plenty of fruits can benefit from a little charring. Pineapple’s a popular option, along with mango, pear and other fairly sturdy fruits. For Tanya Steel, editor in chief of the popular food and recipe site Epicurious.com, stone fruits are a go-to item for the grill.
“Stone fruits like peaches and plums are generally the best thing to use on the grill,” Steel said. “But with fruits and anything soft, you really have to man the grill. Be on top of things, whether it’s a soft vegetable or fish. It’s about putting it on a medium flame and standing over it, because it can break apart easily. And just like meats, when you take fruit off the grill, let it sit for a few minutes so the juices can re-collect.”
Grilling purists might balk at using any other fuel than wood or charcoal. But with grilled fruits and some vegetables, the goal is to produce char and carmelization rather than soak up a bunch of smoky flavors. In this case, propane grills might be the better option.
“This is the one time when gas is preferable to charcoal,” Steel said. “The bad thing about gas is that it doesn’t impart flavor, but the good thing about gas is that it doesn’t impart flavor. Charcoal is good for meats and gas is perfect for fruits and vegetables. Always make sure your grill grates are really clean. There’s nothing worse than tasting charred burger on peaches.”
For those who crave protein but don’t want to go the meat route, grilled tofu does the trick. First, give your grate a coat of oil before adding tofu. And to ensure your tofu doesn’t end up a goopy mess on the grill, opt for the extra-firm. Giving the tofu a good soak in marinade will also give a much needed flavor. On its own, grilled tofu will taste like a hunk of “blah” with some grill marks.
“I’m all for giving tofu as much flavor as you can,” Steel said. “It’s great to eat, but flavorless without doing anything to it. Marinating with miso is great. One thing we love to do is grill tofu and put it in pita pockets with vegetables. It tastes like a creamy, slightly charred sandwich.”
Or consider popping a pizza on the grill. While controlling temperature can be trickier on a grill than in an oven, with the right oversight you’ll get a crisp crust and pleasing char – not to mention some smoky overtones that’ll go well with meat toppings. If you’re in the market for a quality store-bought pizza that works well on a grill, look for the line of cornmeal crust pizzas from Vicolo.
Either way, don’t be afraid to give the bottom of that pizza a little burn.
“Burnt is good, burnt works,” said Lang about pizza. “When you go into some of the great pizzas, it’s that burn that’s beyond carmelized that just gives it traction.”
And after all those flame-kissed fruits, veggies and pizza, might as well cap the meal with some grilled desserts. How about chocolate sundaes with grilled bananas, or plums with honey-lemon yogurt?
Steel raves over a grilled poundcake recipe by noted barbecue author Steven Raichlen that’s featured on Epicurious, which comes with pineapple salsa and tequila whipped cream.
“It’s incredibly easy,” said Steel. “You just put a little butter on the poundcake and rotate it on the grill, and dollop with the pineapple salsa.”
Plums with honey-lemon yogurt
Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: about 6 minutes
Recipe from “Weber’s Time to Grill” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, 304 pages).
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 plums, firm but ripe, each cut in half
Vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
In a small bowl whisk the yogurt, honey, lemon juice and cardamom. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).
Lightly brush the cut side of each plum half with oil. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the plum halves, cut side down first, over direct medium heat, with the lid open, until slightly charred and grill marks appear, about 3 minutes. Turn the plums over, sprinkle evenly with the sugar, and continue cooking for 3 more minutes.
To serve, place two plum halves in each of six cups or bowls. Spoon the honey yogurt over the plums. Sprinkle the pistachios on top.
Warm banana chocolate sundaes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: 5 to 7 minutes
Recipe from “Weber’s Time to Grill” by Jamie Purviance.
2 bananas, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup brandy or bourbon or fresh orange juice
Vanilla ice cream
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely grated
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees F).
Tear off two 12-inch lengths of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Working with one piece of foil at a time, place a sliced banana in the center of the foil. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brown sugar, then 2 tablespoons each cream and brandy. Fold in the sides of the foil, then the top and bottom to enclose the banana mixture. Repeat with the other banana.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the foil packets, seam side up, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the brown sugar is melted and the liquid is simmering and combined into a sauce (open a packet to check), 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the packets to a sheet pan and let rest for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
Put two scoops of ice cream into each of four serving bowls. Snip the foil packets open with scissors. Pour the contents of the packets evenly over the ice cream in each bowl. Sprinkle each with equal amounts of the chocolate and then top with the nuts. Serve immediately.
Grilled sweet potato and sausage pizza
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 28 minutes
Makes 8 large slices
Grilling infuses pizza with a wonderful smoky flavor and a crisp, chewy crust. But you need to know a few basics.
First, your toppings need to be precooked because the pizza won’t be on the grill long enough to cook them there. Second, it’s important to start with clean, well-oiled grates. The dough will stick to any charred bits of food left on the grates.
Finally, start by grilling the dough plain until the bottom is lightly browned. Then oil the top, flip and add your sauce and other toppings, then finish cooking.
This Associated Press recipe is a slightly unusual combination of sausage and sweet potato. Classic sliced tomatoes and mozzarella (with fresh basil thrown on after it comes off the grill) or sauteed peppers, onions and zucchini topped with pepper jack cheese also would be great options.
1 medium sweet potato
2 sweet or spicy Italian chicken sausage, each cut diagonally into 8 slices
One 20-ounce ball of pizza dough
2 tablespoons olive oil
One 16-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Peel the sweet potato and slice it into 1/8-inch slices. Drop the slices into the boiling water and boil until just tender, but not falling apart, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the sweet potatoes, then set aside.
Heat the grill to medium-high.
Grill the sausage slices until charred and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and set aside.
Clean the grill grates and brush with oil. Stretch the pizza dough into a rough circle, about 14 inches in diameter. Lower the grill to medium heat, then set the dough on the grate. Close the lid and grill for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the bottom is toasted and golden.
Brush the top of the pizza crust with half of the olive oil and flip over. Brush again with the remaining oil. Top with the sweet potato slices, the cooked sausage pieces and the mozzarella slices.
Close the grill and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the crust is golden and crispy. Remove from the grill and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme.
Per slice: 310 calories; 60 calories from fat (20 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 4 g fiber; 800 mg sodium.
Grilled peaches with mascarpone
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 4 minutes
Mascarpone, or Italian-style cream cheese, is available at specialty foods stores and most supermarkets. You may substitute fresh ricotta cheese or crème fraîche.
4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup mascarpone
1/4 cup best-quality honey
Preheat gas grill to medium-high.
Brush cut sides of peaches with butter.
Grill, uncovered, until just softened and warmed through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer to dessert plates, spoon some mascarpone alongside peaches, drizzle with honey, and serve immediately.
Grilled watermelon salad with sour orange and mint dressing
Prep time: 15 minutes
Grill time: 6 minutes
This salad also can be made on an indoor grill pan. Recipe from The Associated Press.
1 small red or yellow watermelon, preferably seedless (about 3 to 4 pounds and not too ripe)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for grilling and dressing the salad
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 1 to 2 large navel oranges
Sea or kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Small bunch fresh mint leaves, chopped (reserving 6 to 8 sprigs for garnish)
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt, such as Maldon sea salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)
Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-low.
Cut the watermelon in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half so that you have 4 long triangular pieces. Cut these pieces into 2-inch-thick slices so you have small wedge-shaped slices. How you slice it is mainly for looks, so as long as you have 2-inch-thick slices, any shape is fine. Brush watermelon lightly with olive oil and set aside until ready to grill.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the lime and orange juices. Taste. If it is too tart, add more orange juice. It should taste like a “sour” orange.
Add a pinch of salt and cayenne and whisk continually while adding oil in a thin stream. Whisk until well mixed (emulsified). Taste and adjust the oil and salt to taste. Add in mint and set aside.
Just before serving, place the oiled watermelon slices directly on a very clean cooking grate. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until marked and just warmed through but still crunchy. Transfer to a clean platter.
When ready to serve, place grilled watermelon pieces on a large platter or divide among individual plates. Drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle with an additional pinch of cayenne and the fleur de sel. Add the crumbled cheese, if using, and serve garnished with mint sprigs.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Don’t let the name confuse you. This is an easy, delicious and summery dessert, not a reference to the person standing at the grill.
A fool is a classic British dessert made from a fruit compote and whipped cream. Traditionally, the two components are folded together, but they also can be layered in a parfait glass. In this revision, the fruit is grilled rather than cooked on the stovetop.
This recipe, from The Associated Press, uses a mixture of strawberries and peaches, but pineapple and banana with a little toasted coconut on top would be a great tropical fool. Or use apples and pears with cinnamon in the whipped cream.
Vegetable oil, for oiling the grill
2 peaches, halved, pits removed
1 pound large strawberries, stemmed and halved
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat a grill to medium-high. Be sure that the grates are very clean. Using a pair of tongs, rub a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil over the grates.
Grill the peaches and strawberries until tender and starting to brown. Remove the strawberries after 5 minutes. Flip the peaches and grill for another 5 minutes. Allow the fruit to cool until it is easily handled. Pull the skins off the peaches. Cut the fruit up into 1/2-inch cubes, then combine in a large bowl. Stir in the honey and lemon juice. Allow to cool completely.
With an electric mixer, in a large bowl beat the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.
To assemble the fools, arrange the fruit and whipped cream in layers in tall glasses. Start with the mixed fruit, then spoon whipped cream over it and repeat until the glass is filled. Alternatively, fold the cooled fruit into the whipped cream and spoon the mixture into glasses.
Per serving: 440 calories; 310 calories from fat (67 percent of total calories); 34 g fat (21 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber; 35 mg sodium.
Charred radicchio with sweet-and-sticky balsamic and bacon
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
Serves 8 to 10
Recipe from “Charred & Scruffed” by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky (Artisan, 266 pages).
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic paste (1 to 2 cloves mashed with a pinch of salt)
Pinch each of sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
For the salad:
4 to 5 heads radicchio, quartered and core trimmed
16 to 20 slices bacon
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Preheat the grill to medium low.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Put the radicchio in a large bowl and drizzle with just enough vinaigrette to coat lightly, tossing gently.
Lay a slice of bacon on a work surface and wrap a radicchio quarter tightly in the bacon, starting from the bottom end and continuing to just shy of 1/4 inch from the top. Repeat with the remaining bacon and radicchio.
Put the radicchio quarters on the oiled clean grill grate and cook until crispy and golden on the first side, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook until crisp and golden on the second side, about 2 minutes, then turn and cook until crisp and golden on the third side.
Transfer the radicchio to a platter. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle with the chopped chives, and serve.