When you grill veggies, you bring out the flavor.
By CAROLE KOTKIN
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
We're grilling practically everything that won't slip through the grates these days, including vegetables.
It's well worth the effort: The natural sugars in such favorites as onions, garlic and bell peppers caramelize when grilled, imparting a depth and richness that no amount of sauteing can achieve, while eggplant and mushrooms acquire the same woodsy smokiness as a good grilled steak.
Nearly any vegetable in the market can be cooked on the grill using these pointers:
UVegetables easily absorb any off-flavors, so make sure your grill grate is clean.
UTo avoid sticking, marinate vegetables in an oil-based mixture or brush with oil (not butter; it burns too quickly). Drips may cause flare-ups; just lower the lid briefly to extinguish.
UUndercooked vegetables are no treat. Hard ones such as broccoli, cauliflower and potatoes should be microwaved or parboiled before grilling so they don't burn on the outside before they're done.
UStart grilling over medium-high heat, and if they begin overbrowning, turn one gas burner down or move the vegetables to a cooler spot on the charcoal grill.
UFor even cooking, the vegetables must be turned a few times. Use a hinged grill basket or skewers to simplify the task.
UThin metal skewers are best; they neither burn nor tear delicate veggies. Wooden skewers are OK if soaked for 30 minutes so they don't burn.
UFor easy turning, thread skewers through the upper and lower third of asparagus spears. To keep onion slices from breaking apart, thread horizontally through the slice (- 1/2-inch slices work best).
UWhen grilling a variety of vegetables, be ready to remove them at varying times.
UFoil packets keep smaller vegetables such as green beans from slipping through the grill rack.
UVegetables can be grilled ahead of time, freeing up the grill for another use. They'll be fine at room temperature for a few hours.
Grilling develops flavor complexity and depth in the vegetables that can stand up to a rich red wine like a Deloach 2002 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Round out the meal with a green salad and a fruit dessert.
FUSILLI WITH GRILLED VEGETABLES
4 small, firm zucchini, ends trimmed
4 Japanese or small regular eggplants, stem ends trimmed
2 red onions, peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for grilling
2 red bell peppers
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
10 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne
1/2 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
12 oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes, cut into julienne
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound long fusilli or spaghetti
1/3 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Regiano cheese
Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill; with a gas grill, use high heat.
Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips, the eggplants in half lengthwise and the onions crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Brush lightly with olive oil.
Grill the zucchini about 1 minute per side or just until grill marks are apparent; cut into 1/2-inch slices and transfer to a large bowl. Grill eggplant about 2 minutes per side, until browned and softened; cut into 1/2-inch slices and add to the bowl. Grill onion slices until very soft, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. Cut slices in half and add to the bowl.
Grill the bell pepper until black all over, about 5 minutes per side. Cover with paper towels. When cool, peel away the charred skin with the towels. Discard seeds, cut flesh into strips and add to the bowl.
Whisk or shake together the 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, basil, parsley, thyme, sun dried tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Add to the vegetables and toss to mix. Set aside at least 1 hour to marinate.
Just before serving, cook the pasta until al dente, following package instructions; drain. Place in a large, shallow serving bowl, add the vegetables and their dressing and toss to mix. Pass cheese at the table. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 542 calories (36 percent from fat), 22 g fat (3.7 g saturated, 14.4 g monounsaturated), 4.4 mg cholesterol, 14.9 g protein, 74.2 g carbohydrates, 7.7 g fiber, 113 mg sodium.