Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.
I'm a dedicated meat-eater. I think pork is one of the four basic food groups (butter and heavy cream make up a second).
So it may seem odd that when I finally broke down and got a gas grill, the first thing I cooked on it was a batch of fresh pattypan squash from the farmers market.
It wasn't that I didn't have any meat on hand, mind you. I had just gotten the vegetables that day from the market, though, and they were so fresh and firm that they were practically crying out to be quartered, marinated and grilled.
You don't need a fancy dressing with sugar and/or a host of spices. All I did was coated them well with some olive oil, salt and pepper for a few minutes before putting them on the grill.
I didn't need anything else that meal, except a glass of rosé, as good a drink with grilled foods as a cold beer.
Those squashes remain among of the best dishes to come off my grill, and not just because they were first. I continue to grill them exactly the same way, which is quite frequent now that squashes are in season.
But don't limit yourself to squashes or peppers. You can grill most any vegetable, including eggplant, if you approach it right.
Tom Perini, owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, near Abilene, offers a great chart for grilled vegetables in his book, "Texas Cowboy Cooking," which came out in 2000 and is still in print.
He doesn't add anything to his Fire-Roasted Vegetables until they are finished cooking. All he does is cut some up and remove the seeds if needs be.
Yellow summer squash on the grill.
"This is a technique you can use with just about any vegetable," he writes. "Grilling vegetables over a live fire awakens the sugars and brings the flavor of the vegetables to the surface, a flavor you don't get in an oven. The color you get by grilling vegetables is spectacular: They look great with a little bit of char around the edges and there's nothing prettier than grilled vegetables with your steak. Be careful not to cook them to much, they need to have a little firmness."
That last sentence cannot be emphasized enough: Don't let your attention stray from the vegetables. They cook quickly. Too much heat and you've got burnt mush.
Here are Tom's suggestions for handling the vegetables and his time-table for cooking them to just the right doneness. He prefers coal, which does offer great added flavor, but I have found that gas works almost as well if you're in a hurry or cooking for one:
Wash the vegetables. Use the chart below to determine proportions and cooking times. See that coals are red-hot and about 6 inches below the grill before starting to cook.
Peppers: bell, Anaheim, poblano, 8-10 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise and seed.
Peppers: jalapeños, 10 minutes. Leave whole.
Mushrooms, 8-10 minutes. Use whole caps with stems removed or trimmed.
Onions, sweet Texas, green and purple, 10-15 minutes. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.
Sweet potatoes, 8-10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.
Eggplant, 10 minutes. Slice crosswise or diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine the dressing ingredients thoroughly. Toss the grilled vegetables in the dressing. This can be served at room temperature or chilled. Sliced beef may also be added.
From "Texas Cowboy Cooking" by Tom Perini