One of the enchanting smells of summer is meat sizzling on the grill, and though my parents wouldn’t have thought of grilling any vegetable other than russet potatoes, nowadays people are throwing all kinds of veggies onto the grill.
If this is something you haven’t done much of, or want to try, here are a few tips that will prevent your fresh garden gems from burning and ending up in the compost pile. While vegetables can, of course, go directly on the grill, for anything other than potatoes, a grilling pan or grilling basket comes in very handy.
Basics: First, remember to avoid letting raw meat touch the veggies to be grilled. You might think they’re all going to be cooked anyway, but vegetables might not reach a high enough temperature to prevent harmful bacteria.
Some vegetables are so difficult to cook in their raw state on the grill that you should parboil them first; I even boil potatoes before roasting them on the grill (and potatoes should always have holes poked in them to avoid bursting). Boil potatoes and artichoke hearts for about 8-10 min. in boiling water before grilling. For carrots, celeriac, parsnips and whole garlic bulbs, boil 5-8 minutes before grilling.
Don’t throw all the vegetables on the grill at once. It takes some experimenting, but basically harder vegetables, will, of course, take longer to grill. Very soft ones will take much less. The ones mentioned above for boiling before grilling are what I would consider “hard” vegetables. Medium ones could include leeks, scallions, onions, asparagus and bell peppers. Take care with “soft” vegetables such as ripe tomatoes, green onions, squash, zucchini and eggplant. And the grill should not be excessively cool or hot.
Corn: I’m of the belief that anyone who can grill can probably grill corn, or already has. Some people boil ears of corn before grilling to avoid any charring, while others like the extra smoky taste that direct grilling gives. There are two basic ways people grill corn: pull down the husk, tear off the silk, brush the kernels with oil, then pull the husk back on the grill. Method number two is what I’d call the “1960s Dad Method”: husk the corn completely, cover with butter, salt and pepper, wrap in aluminum foil, and put on the grill.
Tomatoes: Grilled tomatoes are exquisite, but I recommend halving cherry tomatoes, small Roma tomatoes, or small other tomatoes. Even thick-sliced large tomatoes fall apart on the grill pretty quickly. If you want some make-ahead pasta sauce, grill at least 20-30 small tomatoes brushed with olive oil and throw in chopped garlic. Add salt and pepper. Grill till soft, and when done, let cool and process in a blender. It purees very easily and you will want only that kind from then on!
Squash/zucchini: I prefer to grill pattypan squash since they are small and do not fall apart easily. My overall recommendation is not to grill squash or zucchini, but if you do, cut them in chunks instead of slices.
Salt: Your tendency might be to salt a little of any vegetable you put on the grill. Usually it’s all right, but remember that salt acts as a chemical as well as a flavoring ingredient. It can make some vegetables, especially soft ones, “sweat” and cook faster.
Skewers: When using wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before grilling so they won’t burn. You are probably disposing of them anyway, but I have had skewers completely burn before the food is done.
Time to fire up the grill!