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Asparagus Is Perfect for the Grill


Asparagus on the grill.

Easter may be over, but my hunger for asparagus isn’t.

Here are two recipes that are great for the grill.

The first is from Simon Hopkinson’s “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” (Hyperion, $24.95), which is a great resource for those looking for solid recipes that are often easy to put together. He reminds us of just how versatile these spears are and how well they go with certain foods.

“Asparagus lends itself to the simplest of preparations,” he writes. “Most obvious is to serve with with melted butter, or just hollandaise on its own. i have come to the conclusion that, in fact, eggs are its favorite companion: buttery scrambled eggs, soft-boiled or poached eggs using asparagus spears as ‘soldiers,’ or eggs baked en cocotte with cream and tarragon.”

The other is a simple grilled asparagus dish I threw together with items out of the fridge and freezer.

Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan

24 large asparagus spears
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 to 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, in a piece
Lemon wedges, to serve

Heat a ribbed cast-iron grill or skillet. Brush the asparagus spears with some of the oil, and cook until nicely charred on all sides. Transfer to a large white dish, season lightly with salt and plenty of pepper, and sprinkle with the chopped egg. Using a potato peeler, shave slivers of Parmesan over the surface, drizzle with more olive oil, and serve with the lemon wedges.

From “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham

Grilled Asparagus with Hazelnuts

Grilled Asparagus with Hazelnuts

Asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Hazelnut oil
Toasted hazelnuts, broken
1 egg, sunny-side up (optional)

Prepare the grill. Drizzle how much asparagus you want to eat with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus until charred on all sides. Place on a platter and drizzle with a light amount of hazelnut oil. Sprinkle toasted hazelnut pieces. Top with an egg if desired.

From John Griffin

 

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How to Roast a Bell Pepper


roastedpepperWhy buy roasted peppers in a jar when you can roast them yourself? There are several easy ways to do this, you don’t need any fancy equipment, and the freshness of the flavor can’t be beat.

You can roast peppers on the grill or in the oven. You can even roast them on top of the oven, if you have a gas stove top and are careful.

If you are using your grill, get it hot before starting. Then just put your freshly washed peppers on and close the lid. Let it set for a couple of minutes before turning. Keep repeating this procedure until all of the sides have been well charred and the pepper has softened somewhat from the heat. (It is only the skin that chars and you are going to remove that.)

Remove the peppers and place in a paper bag or plastic bag with a little air in it. Let them set for at least 10 minutes to let the peppers steam. Then let the peppers cool enough to where you can touch them, so that you can peel them with your fingers. Not every last speck of peeling will come off, and if that bothers you, use a vegetable peeler or paring knife for those tiny spots. Just don’t scrape the pepper away in your AR zeal.

“The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook” — the not-so-new but well-used 1986 edition on my shelf — offers the following tips for roasting green and red peppers in an oven: “Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prick each of the green and red peppers in several places to prevent them from bursting when roasting in oven. Place peppers on cookie sheet, making sure peppers do not touch each other. Roast about 20 minutes or until skin puckers, turning peppers occasionally so they won’t burn.”

“Remove peppers to medium-sized clean brown paper bag; fold top of bag to seal it, and let stand at room temperature 10 minutes (keeping peppers in bag to steam makes it easier to peel off skin). Remove peppers from bag; peel off skin and discard seeds.”

I would also add that you need to remove the veins from inside as well before you cut them into your desired shape.

What is not in these instructions? Any mention of washing the pepper after it is roasted. Do not do this.

So do, but it affects the flavor of the pepper, says Moe Lazri, general manager of Fig Tree Restaurant and Little Rhein Steakhouse. He knows whereof he speaks: He created the most attractive antipasti plate I’ve ever seen, and his roasted peppers were excellent.

If you are using your gas stove top, hold each pepper using a set of tongs directly on top of the flame. I’ve seen cooks place the pepper in the flame; if you do this, make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy, just in case it goes flying.

You can do any of these steps with chile peppers, but adjust the cooking time to fit the different size. And be careful with handling those. You don’t want to peel them with bare hands.

No matter how you have roasted your peppers, you can enjoy them plain or dressed with a  drizzle of olive oil, some salt and maybe a few fresh herbs or crumbled feta cheese. Add them to recipes, garnish your favorite burger or sandwich with them, use them in salads. They can be as versatile as your imagination.

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Cool Hors d’Oeuvres When It’s Hot


ceviche2The caller was urgent. “What kind of hors d’oeuvres should I serve at a cocktail party this time of year?” he wanted to know.

The gathering would be later in the evening and feature little more than snacks and drinks. “I’m hoping everybody’s had dinner by then,” he said.

Yet he also wanted to serve something meaty.

My first thought was pork tenderloin, which you can season to your taste and make ahead of time. Just slice it up and serve cold or at room temperature with a few condiments, ranging from mustard to pickled red onions.

Ceviche also came to mind. This marinated seafood dish looks great, is coolly refreshing, and can be put together at the last minute, all the while suggesting you’ve been slaving over the food.  (The accompanying recipe is from Jonathan Parker’s “The Manhattan Ocean Club Seafood Cookbook.” Parker has cooked in several San Antonio restaurants, including Pesca on the River and Ounce.)

If you want to rely on the deli to help, find the best roast beef you can afford, such as the house-made version at Central Market, 4821 Broadway. Have it sliced relatively thin (not as thin as prosciutto) and fold a piece on top of a garlic bagel crisp. Crumble blue cheese and toss some arugula on top. Serve horseradish sauce, a flavored mayonnaise or two, chimichurri sauce and/or mustard on the side. Your entire snack is done and you didn’t have to turn on the oven.

Grilled PineappleItalian lovers might want to get together an antipasti selection, including grilled or oven-roasted asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese on top as well as grilled squashes, roasted peppers, tomatoes, skewers of garlic potatoes, eggplant, and jalapeños. This is another approach that should be done ahead of time, because the vegetables taste best when served at room temperature.

Complement the tray with various salami, olives and rustic cheeses, both hard and soft.

Don’t forget the power of fruit. So much is in season now, from melons to cherries. Serve strawberries with chocolate-flavored whipped cream. Stuff fresh figs with goat cheese and wrap in a slice of prosciutto. Grill peach halves and pineapple slices (see the accompanying recipe for Grilled Pineapple With Sweet Rum Glaze).

Here are a few other ideas from SavorSA writers that are easy yet elegant for summer parties:

  • If you are serving crudités, add some color to the tray with an old Cuban recipe that friends and I have enjoyed on many occasions: Take ham slices and wrap them around pickles. Vary that with asparagus or hearts of palm.
  • Pick up empanadas from Beto’s Comida Latina, 7325 Broadway.
  • Chicken salad sandwiches and cucumber sandwiches, tea party-style, are great with many white wines.
  • Last, but certainly not least: Salsa, guac and chips — c’mon, it’s San Antonio!

What do you like to serve at cocktail parties during the summer? Post your comments below.

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Griffin to Go: Grilling vegetables


Grilled zucchini picked fresh from the garden.

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.

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:

Fire-Roasted Vegetables

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.

Dressing:
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

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