Take the Party (and the Heat) Outside
My mom has been telling me since I was old enough to complain (which was pretty much at birth) that when she was growing up, no one had air conditioning. People went outside and did stuff as a family and didn’t spend their summer days in the climate-controlled comforts of their living rooms, watching television.
Well, like a lot of people in the Berkshires, my house doesn’t have AC. Ironically, my mom refuses to visit me in the summer. “It’s too hot,” she says, as she turns on “CSI: Miami, New York, Las Vegas.”
I can’t argue with her. It does get hot, especially in the kitchen and, except for maybe frying up an egg in the morning I refuse to turn on the oven or stove in the summer. That means that my culinary attentions shift from baked goods and oven roasting strictly to the open flame of the grill. And, with a vegetable garden giving me delicious, fresh, plentiful produce, I have learned that you can grill just about anything—and it’s delicious.
When it comes to grilling vegetables, there are a number of techniques at your disposal. Lets start with the basics: olive oil, salt and pepper. Generally, these are the only seasonings I use when grilling veggies. The olive oil not only prevents your vegetables from drying out, but it also gives the salt and pepper something to stick to. Be careful though—you don’t want to use too much oil as it can cause flare-ups on the grill, which can result in unnecessary burning of your food (and a lot of singed hair on your arm or eyebrows).
Vegetables like green beans, onions, carrots, Brussels sprouts and chopped vegetables are tough to just throw on the grill. They fall through the grill slits, are tough to turn and can be more trouble than they are worth. For these smaller items, I like to use a mesh vegetable basket that lets me toss the vegetables right over the flame. If you don’t have a basket at your disposal, make a tray out of foil, use double layer and roll up the sides, poking small holes in the bottom. This will give you the same results. Or, use the foil and create a steaming pouch. Fold the foil in half to create a pocket, put in your vegetables and then fold over the sides. Put it on the grill, turning once during its cook time (about 20 minutes) for perfectly steamed vegetables.
When it comes to cook times, there are a lot of variables involved, such as how thinly your vegetables are sliced, the density of what you are cooking and how hot your grill is. As a general rule, you want to sear your vegetables over high heat and then move them to a cooler area of the grill. This allows for those nice grill marks we all love, but still gives the vegetables time to cook on the inside. For things like potatoes and yams, I actually like to par boil them first. I have a propane grill that has a burner attachment on the side. I slice my potatoes, boil them for about 4 minutes, toss them in oil, salt and pepper, and then move them to the grill, drastically reducing their cook time and making them nice and soft in the centers with a crunch on the outside.
And of course we can’t talk about grilling without mentioning skewers. I say if you can skewer it, go for it. My favorite vegetable on the skewer? Cherry tomatoes. To be honest, I don’t do a whole lot of skewering, but when I do I tend to not mix different kinds of vegetables on the same skewer. I know it looks pretty and colorful, but different vegetables need different grill times and when you mix them up, it’s hard to get them all the right degree of “done” at the same time. Keeping them separate lets you to customize their cook times so you aren’t dealing with skewers where half of your vegetables are scorched and the other half are undercooked.
Basically, you can grill anything from your garden. Iceberg wedges? Sure! Fennel bulbs? Absolutely. Corn? You would be a fool not to! Summer is a celebration of the outdoors so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things on your grill. Anything beats being inside slaving over a hot stove.
Brian Cruey is the Director of Communications at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. An avid gardener, writer and pontoon boat enthusiast, he proudly resides in Otis, with his partner, dogs and chickens.