By Cathy Erway
[Cathy’s approach to early-season grilling. (I had to look up “appetant,” by the way.) – mb]
If your social calendar looks anything like mine, this weekend marks the debut of many appetent backyard owners’ barbecues. Seriously, don’t all shout at once! (Or do, but please stagger your times and locations conveniently, because I can’t wait to get to them all.)
So we all know and love to grill peppers, eggplant and corn on the cob, but since it’s still spring, our choices for local produce are more limited. Fear not, locavore: almost anything can be grilled. And better yet, slicked with a sweet-and-spicy sauce first. Just because spring and early summer vegetables don’t all have the vibrancy and flavor characteristic of those later on, with a little torching and some tweaking, they really shine. Here are some of my favorite, less-expected things to throw down.
Bok choy: My Chinese relatives would find this utterly foolish, but I just love grilling these big leaves. Charred edges, watery stalks – it’s a great way to play up the plant’s stark contrasts. Baby bok choy, those little bundles of tender leaves, can be grilled too. Try splitting them down the middle lengthwise, and grilling them cut side-down first.
Sunchokes: After the first time I bit into a blackened, crispy-surfaced, banana-sweet and mushy-centered sunchoke hot off the grill, I’ve never looked at the tuber the same way. I want you to have this experience, too. (It’s kind of like a roasted marshmallow.) Best to parboil them first, to cook the centers through.
Spring onions: Grilling shoots of spring onions, scallions or other early alliums brings out their sugars and renders them to soft, stringy mush – the perfect burger fixin’. Coat with plenty of oil first.
Carrots: Carrots and parsnips are fantastic when parboiled, coated in a little marinade and tossed on the grill to finish. I’ve also skipped the parboiling step, in the case of Thumbelina carrots, or just for a more toothsome, raw carrot-like interior. Have fun with it – stuff ‘em in your hot dog bun.
Fava beans or fresh peas in the pod: My friend, who’s a chef at Mama Kim’s restaurant in Greenpoint, likes to do this with whole pods of beans: grill them, so that the pod gets some good black marks and breaks open a little, and then spoon some nuoc cham sauce over it to serve. Eat them like edamame in the pod.
Kale and radicchio: If you like roasted, frizzled, “chips” of kale, you can get the same effect in a few seconds by placing leaves in a single layer on a hot grill. Wedges of radicchio, grilled on each side, and sprinkled with salt and fresh lemon, makes a fun, piping-hot alternative to wedges of iceberg lettuce with dressing.
Stale bread for croutons or crostini: There’s always some sort of dip at barbecues, and the obligatory bag of corn chips. Instead, take your day-old loaf of French bread, or whatever’s on head, and give it a new life streaked with olive oil, char marks and sea salt. Toss it in a salad to make it panzanella, or dip it in anything on the spread.