The grill of my dreams

and a recipe for grilled zucchini

By JUDE WATERSTON
Posted 8/21/19

For me, country living led to the exploration of pursuits I never explored as a city dweller.

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The grill of my dreams

and a recipe for grilled zucchini

Posted

For me, country living led to the exploration of pursuits I never explored as a city dweller.

For a time, I had a love affair with canning. I felt a pull to purchase all the canning paraphernalia on the market. I didn’t venture into the world of jams and preserves, or even put up a bounty of summer tomatoes or peaches. Mostly, I pickled. Eventually, my sister, Janet, with whom I live and for whom I cook, admitted she didn’t much care for pickled cabbage, bell peppers, green beans, or Asian daikon radish. “I really only like Claussen’s pickles,” she said. So, we went to Peck’s and picked up a jar of kosher dills. At our subsequent yard sale all the canning equipment went for a song.

Next, I got a hankering to make pizza. Naturally, I needed a terra cotta pizza stone, a wooden paddle with which to slide the unbaked round of dough onto the various sized pizza pans I bought, and a certain kind of rolling pin. Making pizza dough, I discovered, was a time-consuming pursuit, and I soon turned to purchasing prepared dough, either frozen or fresh from a local pizzeria. Still, making a single pizza for two seemed like more work than I wanted to invest, and my passion soon waned. Anyway, Janet and I both agreed that no pizza was better than at Two Guys from Italy in Honesdale, PA. And there will always be another yard sale at which to sell the pizza equipment to a starry-eyed weekender.

Finally, I have developed an on-again, off-again relationship with outdoor grilling. I remain devoted to the dome-lidded Weber variety that uses charcoal briquettes. It doesn’t bother me that you have to think ahead when using this method, meaning you have to retrieve the clunky cylindrical metal chimney, a wad of newspaper, and the heavy, unwieldy sack of charcoal from the basement before you do anything else to prepare for lunch al fresco. My system: stuff the bottom of the chimney with a few crumpled sheets of the New York Times, setting it right-side up and dumping in the charcoal. Strike some kitchen matches and light the paper while furiously praying that the lit newspaper will coax the briquettes into catching fire. Fifteen minutes or so later, you must return to make certain the coals are glowing and then you carefully turn the chimney upside down, allowing the blistering hot charcoal to tumble into the Weber’s basin. Hold your hand about five inches above the briquettes to determine the heat level. Try not to scorch your outstretched hand.
At first, I grilled somewhat regularly, then for a couple of summers only once or twice. Sometimes it rained so continuously, for weeks on end, there was nothing for it. I never really bothered to read up on the many intricacies of the art of grilling and had no idea whether to use the cover or not, or push the briquettes to one side, or just make a big, pointed pile of them. It was hit or miss. The chicken skin was blackened and charred, but the meat was bloody. The vegetables were singed outside and raw within. I turned to cooking steaks and chops for a while, but Janet and I eat our meat so rare it seemed like a waste of time to get the grill going for what would amount to four minutes of cooking time. Frustrated, I ignored the Weber for a while.

Then one gorgeous, warm and cloudless summer day, it dawned on me as to how I could make the grilling experience more worthwhile. All I had to do was plan a menu of items that would accompany the entrée. The idea was to put the grill to greater use. I began to scour the farmers’ market for vegetables suitable for the grill. A prior toss with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper was just about all the prep needed. I realized vegetable side dishes don’t need to be piping hot. So, before briefly cooking the lamb, flank steak, pork tenderloin, or marinated boneless chicken thighs, I cooked a battery of vegetables.

This summer, I slowly and patiently grilled zucchini and yellow squash, turning the pieces and moving them about the grill to ensure even cooking. When they were tender within and blistered outside, I scooped them onto a platter and hit them with the juice of a lemon, a scattering of chopped dill, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a handful of feta. I cooked a mélange of sliced fennel bulb, sweet Vidalia onions, yellow bell pepper slices and cherry tomatoes upon which I splashed a little aged balsamic vinegar accompanied by a garnish of sliced basil leaves. Halved Belgian endive with a citrusy dressing was a hit. Meaty portobello mushrooms were earthy and delicious with any number of meat dishes. Finally, I tried cooking Tuscan kale and Swiss chard after tossing the leaves with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Some leaves became soft and limp and others crisped up a bit. I lay them on a plate and squeezed a lemon wedge over them. They were delicious as is, but even better topped with some slices of rare grilled steak or chunks of steaming chicken thigh I had rubbed with Mexican taco seasoning before grilling. A handful of chopped cilantro leaves added a final brightness.

There is nothing that compares with eating out of doors on a summer day, whether on a blanket on your lawn or at the picnic table. A tumbler of fruity sangria or a glass of Sauvignon Blanc goes down nicely with grilled foods. Birds singing in the branches and wind chimes tinkling, if there is a slight breeze, adds to the enjoyment. Lately, when I undress at the end of the day I sometimes catch a whiff of smoke in my hair. I smile. I now know with certainty that I will never part with my Weber grill: the grill of my dreams.

Grilled zucchini with feta | by Jude Waterston

RECIPE: Grilled Baby Zucchini with Greek Flavors | serves four

Fruity extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs such as dill and mint call to mind the flavors of the Greek isles. I have combined them here, along with pungent feta cheese, in a vinaigrette to be poured over hot-from-the-grill baby zucchini.

6 small zucchinis (or a combination of zucchini and yellow squash)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim off the ends of the zucchini and slice each squash in half lengthwise. Lay them on a plate cut side up and drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil. Season them with salt and pepper and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of olive oil, lemon juice, mint, dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Prepare a grill. Fire is ready when you can hold your hand about five inches above rack for just three or four seconds. Lay the zucchini on the grill cut side up and grill for eight minutes. Turn the zucchini over and grill for about eight more minutes, or until charred, yet somewhat firm. Remove from grill to a cutting board and slice, on the diagonal, at one-inch intervals. Lay the sliced zucchini out on a platter in one layer. Re-whisk the vinaigrette and correct seasoning, if necessary. Ladle the vinaigrette evenly over the warm zucchini. Scatter the crumbled feta over the top and serve immediately.

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