[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 6/2/11]
Like any true Vermonter, I embrace the arrival of each season with verve and vigor only to cast it off a couple months later as I eagerly await the next one.
I love the change of seasons. It adds variety — variety in make some cocktails (vodka and soda with a lime, of course) and fire up the grill.
Local foodwriter and gastronome Sharon Nimtz likes fruit — peaches, apples, oranges — to accompany everything from chicken to burgers and steaks.
For peaches, place the halves on the grill cut side down and flip them once they have started to caramelize, then, drizzle some olive oil, garlic and even a little raw sugar over them.
(I’ve also seen them served with a balsamic reduction drizzle, which adds a sweet/savory pop when combined with the fruit.)
Grilled mozzarella and tomatoes with basil quinoa
Donald Billings, chef and co-owner of Roots the Restaurant lives for the grill. On his days off during the summer months, he what we do, what we wear, and even in what we eat.
Indeed, what we eat varies wildly from season to season, and with each one comes a unique set of flavors and ingredients.
Fall and winter bring hearty comfort food — stews, roasts and anything else to help us pack on an extra layer of insulation to endure the colder months.
Spring and summer are all about light, fresh and (at least for me) healthy — cold salads, fruity desserts and grilled everything.
Indeed, grilling is one of my favorite summer pastimes. There a few better things to do in the early evening, when the sun has begun to dip and the cool breeze blows a reprieve from the day’s heat, then have some friends over, said he is likely to be found with friends doing some heavy duty grilling.
For this unique take on a caprese salad, slice a fresh tomato thick (Donald recommends Vermont Hydroponic) and place it on the grill for about two minutes on each side.
Do the same with a sliced ball of fresh mozzarella cheese. Keep it local here, too, with some excellent Maplebrook Farms mozz. (Be sure not to let the cheese get too melty.)
Chop the cheese and tomatoes and toss in with some freshly cooked quinoa.
Finish it off with a basil vinaigrette: In a bowl add champagne vinegar, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and emulsify; and add a squeeze of grilled lemon (just grill it cut side down to get a smoky blast of citrus).
Serve cold on its own or with a piece of grilled chicken, fish or beef.
Now to get serious.
And that brings us to the main course — the meat. For me, it all starts with a marinade. If you’re not marinating your meat before it hits the flame, you’re really missing the boat. Marinades keep the meat moist and cook the flavors into it in a way that just a pinch of salt and pepper or an on-the-grill slathering of store-bought barbecue sauce never will.
All my marinades start out with the same two ingredients: fresh, chopped garlic and olive oil. From there, I will add other seasonings depending on the flavor I am going for. Here’s one that I really like:
Spicy Maple Chicken
(A note to my nonmeat-eating friends: this also works great on tofu or seitan.)
Start by placing the chicken in a deep pan; cover it with a healthy amount of olive oil and an even healthier amount of garlic. (FYI, I don’t measure in the kitchen so you’ll have to guestimate.)
Next, add some maple syrup — not too much because the sugars will burn on the grill.
Add some spice with a little chili sauce (Sriracha is my pick) or red pepper flakes.
Sprinkle in salt and pepper, then, squeeze in a lemon (about half of one).
Let it sit for about 30 minutes. Toss it on a hot grill, and enjoy.
Bonus Round: Quick and easy side dishes
If you’re looking for a couple no-hassle grilled side dishes try corn or zucchini. For the corn, soak the unshucked ears in water for about 30 minutes, drain and dry, and place on the grill rotating regularly until the husks are evenly blackened.
Grilled zucchini is even easier: Slice them thick, brush with olive oil, sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic, and toss them grill, cooking on both sides until tender.
And there you go. An entire summer meal prepared almost entirely on the grill. The only thing missing is a grilled cocktail; although, I’m thinking about experimenting with mojitos using grilled limes. I’ll let you know how it turns out.