Friday, July 10, 2009

Reporter's Table: Grilled to summer perfection

By Helen Klein

When I got my first box of fresh-from-the-farm veggies for the season, I was like a child with a new box of crayons, the 64-pack, of course.

The produce, which I receive as a member of the Ditmas Park CSA (community supported agriculture), spilled out onto my kitchen counter -- a sparkling array of greens (lettuce, sugar snap peas, zucchini and cucumbers), reds (tomatoes, beets and radishes, orange (carrots) and whites (turnips, tinged with purple, and garlic and green onions).

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do more -- take a bite of the fresh, tantalizing raw produce, or start cooking.

I started cooking.With vegetables this fresh, the dirt still clinging to their roots and now dusting my counter, I wanted to cook something in which their pristine flavors would shine through, and which would celebrate their colors and their crunch.

So, I heated up the grill.Ultimately, using a grill basket -- which saved me the trouble of having to thread chunks of vegetables onto skewers -- I cooked up some of my new zucchini, cut into stubby half moons, with chunks of onion and yellow pepper, grape tomatoes and lengths of asparagus that I ferreted out of my crisper.

First, I tossed the veggies together in a stainless steel bowl with the juice of one lemon (freshly squeezed), about three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and about a teaspoon of Herbes de Provence, and let them sit for a few minutes, to allow the flavors to meld.

The color combination was eye-catching, the flavor of the finished dish tickled my palate, and I was able to indulge freely in the finished dish without worrying too much about how many calories I was consuming.

Being a member of a CSA allows me to enjoy seasonal bounty that is locally grown from late spring through early autumn. A few months back, I paid for my share, which I pick up on Tuesday afternoons from the farmer who grew it all, and whom I had gotten to know on weekly Greenmarket visits.

With a year of CSA membership under my belt, the biggest challenge is no longer what to do with vegetables I’d never before cooked (kale, brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage), but what to do to make sure I use up the steady stream of produce that comes through my kitchen, regular as clockwork.

Once the CSA starts, I know I will be spending more time at the cutting board, but it’s time that I don’t begrudge, because it’s such a visceral pleasure to slice, dice and chop the array of produce that, taken together, spell summer to this city girl.

And, if, as I chop, an occasional tidbit finds its way to my mouth, rather than the bowl, who could blame me?

Grilled summer vegetables


½ large zucchini, cut in half, lengthwise, then in slices about ½ an inch thick
½ large onion, cut into pieces about 1 inch square
1 colored pepper, cut into pieces about 1 inch square
½-1 cup grape tomatoes
8 asparagus spears, bottom two inches trimmed, and cut into segments about 2 inches long
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbl. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Mix ingredients together in non-reactive bowl. Set aside.Heat grill and grill basket. When grill is hot, add vegetables to grill basket, and cook, turning every couple of minutes, till vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove from heat and serve.

As with most other recipes that find their way into my kitchen, this one is extremely flexible. Trade off a lime or two for the lemon. Replace one or more vegetables with others -- what you have on hand or what you prefer -- though I recommend retaining the tomatoes, because they add a juiciness to the final dish that I find particularly toothsome. I used Herbes de Provence for this recipe because I didn’t have any fresh herbs on hand that particularly appealed to me at the moment. But, you could substitute chopped fresh basil for them, or finish the dish with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

The colorfulness of the finished dish is not only attractive to the eye; it also ensures that the dish offers a variety of nutrients. Just make sure not to over-cook the vegetables so that their nutritional value remains intact.


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