Fire Up the Veggies

Story and recipes by Debbi Snook | Wine Commentary by Gary Twining

Photo by Beth Segal

Grilling season is no longer limited to summer, especially during COVID-19 times. Besides, embracing outdoor cooking now also will allow us to gear up for the day when we can host larger-scale, guilt-free backyard gatherings again. It’s always a fine time to make merry with the flames.

Learn to make those flames work for you in preparing a prized hunk of meat, trio of vegetables and a fire-licked dessert. The secret? Learning when to put your food atop the raging heat for an appealing char, or just off to the side of the hottest coals or burners, where the more moderate heat, and smoke, will cook it more slowly and help you control the outcome. The first bite will make it all worthwhile.

Gary: I love to grill throughout the year, in all kinds of weather, and especially with a glass of wine in my hand. Foods prepared on the grill acquire wonderful tastes. Remember to prevent your grilled fare from excessive or extensive charring, as this will bring out bitterness in both food and wine. The grill also brings out the umami character in meats, suggesting that round, soft, supple reds, as well as aged wines, can pair exceptionally well with grilled poultry and red meats.

Fire Up the Veggies

Just like meat, vegetables can be transformed by a grill. Each reacts differently to fire, and a few tips are in order for three of them: Sweet peppers, scallions and Romaine lettuce.

Sweet Peppers Two Ways: For splendid cross-hatched grill marks and a plate-ready vegetable, steam the peppers for five minutes, lightly brush with olive oil and then toss skin-side-down onto a medium-hot grill. After grill marks appear, move peppers one-quarter turn and cook until tender. For a peeled, roasted sweet pepper, throw whole peppers on a fiery hot wood-fired grill. The skins will blister and blacken quickly. This is good. Use long-handled tongs to turn them to scorch completely. As each is done, toss into a pot with a lid. Let them cool about an hour and then peel off skin, also removing stems and membranes. You can use in a recipe or stack in a zippered freezer bag. Strain the juices from the pot to freeze with the roasted peppers.

Scallions: Some of the best taco joints keep a chafing dish with grilled peppers and scallions at the ready. The cooking brings out the nutty flavors in the onions, but to cook them evenly, first take a bunch of washed scallions with their roots trimmed and hold the white parts in boiling water for a minute. Dry with a towel, oil up the bunch and place over a medium-low fire. (Perpendicular to the grates, of course!) Cook to desired char. Chop and use for steaks, burgers or tacos.

Romaine Lettuce: Yes, add a little smoke to your salad with this technique. Rinse the outside of the head, then slice lengthwise into halves or quarters, depending on the desired serving size. Brush or spray the cut sides with olive oil, then place the lettuce cut-side down on a medium-low grill. Check frequently and cook to desired char level. Drizzle with your favorite dressing and serve. Blue cheese and buttermilk ranch are winners here.

Gary: The best wines to pair with these treats are both dry and sweet with crisp acidity. Look for softly dry Vouvray/Chenin Blanc, crisp and dry Rieslings, Albariño, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, or Unoaked Chardonnay. For a lightly sweet choice, choose a mellow Tokay from Hungary or German Kabinett or Spätlese Riesling.

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