UP IN SMOKE
BEET MEETS HEAT
(ROOT VEGETABLES ON THE GRILL)
January 30th, 2012
Well, it turns out you can get as much satisfaction grilling winter veggies as summer. Bright colors and soulful flavors? Check. Rich smoke taste? Check. The smoky sweetness that results from the caramelization of plant sugars? Check.
Call it the endless summer, but winter vegetables enable you to go from garden to grill all year long.
Withal, winter vegetables require special treatment on the grill. Most tend to have a denser texture and lower moisture content than summer vegetables, which makes them better-suited to an indirect grilling method. And many—like sweet potatoes, onions, and winter squash—contain a lot of residual sugar, so they’re prone to burning when grilled over high heat. Here are some of my favorite techniques:
Caveman grilling (directly in or on the embers of a wood or charcoal fire): Especially well-suited to sweet potatoes and onions. Lay the veggies directly on the coals and grill until charred black on all sides, turning with tongs. This takes 30 to 40 minutes. (On a gas grill, you’d crank up the heat to high and direct grill until skins are charred and the flesh is tender.) Use the skewer test below to check for doneness. To serve, cut the veggies in half and drizzle with olive oil, butter, or balsamic syrup. The charred skins impart an incredible smoke flavor.
Indirect grilling/smoke-roasting: Winter squash, whole cabbages and onions, whole beets, rutabagas, turnips, celery root, etc.. Cut acorn squash in half and stuff with beans, wild rice, and cheese to make a terrific meatless entrée. For cabbage and onion, remove the stem and core (cut it out in a cone-shaped plug) and stuff it with bacon, butter, and barbecue sauce. Indirect grill until soft, about 1 hour. For a smoke flavor, add wood chips to the fire. Pull off any charred leaves before serving.
Pan-roasting in a cast iron skillet or disposable foil pan: Pan-roasted carrots, parsnips, leeks, Brussels sprouts, and fingerling potatoes are all the rage at fashionable restaurants these days. They’re easy on the grill (and even better than in the oven because you can add a smoke flavor). Cook whole or cut into 2-inch chunks. Arrange in a single layer in a cast iron skillet or aluminum foil pan and season with extra virgin olive oil or butter and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Indirect grill at medium-high heat (about 400 degrees) until browned and tender. To make garlic roasted potatoes, break up a head of garlic (leave the skins on the cloves) and add to a pan full of fingerling potatoes. Brussels sprouts are terrific roasted with thinly sliced bacon.
A few other points to keep in mind when grilling winter vegetables:
Whole vegetables like potatoes, beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, etc., take about one hour to cook—sometimes more. To shorten cooking times, cut the vegetables into chunks, slices, or cubes. Or parboil, which is especially useful for artichokes. (I try to do everything from start to finish on the grill. But that’s me.)
One of the best grilled winter squash dishes I know comes from a restaurant right here in Miami: the Asian-inflected Gigi in Midtown.
Method: Direct grilling
1 large butternut squash,1 to 1-1/2 pounds
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the glaze:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon juice from a Meyer lemon, or more to taste
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno juice (optional)
1/4 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin or squash seeds)
Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium, about 350°F.
Peel the squash and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out any seeds with a spoon, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Lightly brush the squash slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Brush and oil the grill grate.
Arrange the squash slices on the grate and grill until browned and tender, 6 to 10 minutes per side, turning with a spatula. If the squash starts to burn, lower the heat.
Make the glaze: In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat on the stovetop. Add the maple syrup, lemon juice, and jalapeno juice.
The last couple minutes of grilling, brush the squash slices with a little glaze. Arrange the cooked squash on a platter and pour the remaining glaze over it. Sprinkle with the toasted pepitas, and dig in.
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