Italian Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

After almost twenty years in America, I have come to terms with the fact that here barbecue is an expression of national pride. Barbecue expresses American identity through food as accurately as jazz does through music. It’s simple, honest, and… manly. I ’ve come to love it.  However, to stay true to my origins, I always make room on the grill for some vegetables! Italians (with the exception of Tuscany) are not so big on barbecuing meat, but grilling is a favorite cooking method for everything else! Besides the obvious advantage of being quick and easy, it preserves most of the ingredients’ nutritional qualities while enhancing their flavor. The secret of a good vegetable “barbecue” is the grilling temperature, which needs to be inversely proportional to the size/thickness of the food: the thinner pieces should be grilled quickly on high heat, and the thicker/larger ones should be cooked more slowly on lower heat. We don’t usually marinate the vegetables before grilling. In order to enhance (rather than hide) their flavor and texture, we just brush them quickly with a little oil while on the grill. Each vegetable needs some individual attention: eggplants, for example, tend to dry out a bit during grilling; besides, it’s best to salt them first, to cut down their bitterness, but this also removes some moisture.

salting eggplant

For this reason, they should be sliced pretty thick (about1/2 inch) and cooked longer. Zucchini are delicate and should be sliced thinner and cooked very quickly. If you use a mandoline or your food processor disc, you will be able to set your desired thickness and cook the vegetable slices more uniformly. Tomatoes are quite watery, and should be seeded, salted and allowed to drain for twenty minutes before cooking. They should only be grilled on the side of the peel, or they’ll fall apart. Just make sure you give all your veggies some TLC and individual attention!

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and halved or quartered
  • 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 or 2 Japanese eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 head red radicchio or/and fennel, halved or sliced lengthwise (depending on the type and size)
  • ** you can also useother vegetables, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, asparagus etc.
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 2 tsp freshly chopped Italian parsley
  • (optional) chopped basil leaves,or rosemary and sage

Directions

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat (or feel free to use your barbecue). If using eggplant, salt the slices and leave them to sweat out the bitter juices for half an hour before you grill them. Rinse them and pat them dry before grilling. Right before placing them on the grill, brush the vegetables with oil. Grill one type of vegetable at a time, because depending on their texture and thickness (see intro) they will require different temperatures and cooking times. Working in batches, cook the vegetables until tender and lightly charred (about 8 minutes for the eggplants and peppers; 5 minutes for the zucchini; 4 minutes for the radicchio, fennel or onion). Don't shift them or turn them frequently or the grill marks will look too irregular. Arrange the vegetables on a platter and drizzle or brush them with more oil. Add salt, pepper, minced garlic and herbs to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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