The Florentine says… grillax

Matt O'Leary
June 4, 2009

Ah, you know the feeling. Sun on your neck. The smell of marinated meat turned and sizzling on a shiny lattice. The breeze drying the patina of honest sweat on your cheeks. The sound of your friends being chased by drowsy carpenter bees the size of hummingbirds and shining like crepuscular nuggets of evil. It's Barbecue time.

Even though being menaced by fauna is a sadly necessary part of eating outside, it's still the most fun time of the year for cooking, especially if you're getting a little bit toasted by the sun and a couple of bottles of Peroni, with a spatula in one hand like a conductor's baton and, as the evening wears on, acquiring an increasingly beatific look on your face. You can deal with the dishes and scrubbing tomorrow. Time to make the most of the season with a bumper new crop of outdoor recipes.

Forget meat for a bit. Make yourself skewers of unsmoked scamorza, tomato, basil leaves and lemon and pepper oil. Take strips of soaked baccalà and wrap them in a double layer of foil with red onion, seasoning and very thin slices of potato: brush with oil and let the moisture from the fish cook the whole lot. Blanche asparagus and spring onions in boiling, salted water for one minute, then season and grill until a little charred before serving with some lemon mayonnaise for a dip. Chop onions-lots of them-finely and wrap tightly in tinfoil with butter, some vinegar and a grind of pepper, before placing the parcel on the grill to cook. Open it when the onions are soft and caramelised and you have hot relish for your burger and sandwiches, with little effort.

Rub steaks with oil into which you've crumbled and allowed to infuse a little crushed lavender. Lavender oil gives well-aged steak an amazing, deep flavour. Or try taking some hammered-flat veal or turkey cutlets and wrapping them into cones around a slice of pancetta and some fresh sage. Fix these with a soaked cocktail stick and then toss them on the grill until completely cooked through.

Ribs are a classic part of the barbecue experience. Short baby back pork ris are ideal, but spareribs will do just as well. Cook them for a couple of hours in the oven first, in a covered  pan half-filled with water and the stock basics: a couple of chopped celery sticks, a quartered onion, and a carrot or two, along with garlic, salt and pepper. Make sure that the pan always has water. Then, strain the stock, discard the veg and seasoning, and use the liquid as a base for a barbecue sauce filled with rich summer flavours.

Use balsamic vinegar, tomatoes (or ketchup), honey, onion, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, and red wine. Pulverise and strain it as you go. Don't be afraid to flavour it with cola or orange juice. It needs to be really sweet and sticky, but it will thicken easily if you reduce it. Pour the sauce over the ribs and bake them in the oven for another 20 minutes or so (by this stage they will be ultra-soft), then transfer to the grill for a final sizzle.

If you can find miso paste, marinate chicken breasts in it with some salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and sugar or honey. The miso tenderises the chicken and adds a unique, all-round-the-mouth taste to the meat. Or alternatively, cut chicken breast fillets open in butterfly shapes, then fill them with sundried-tomato paste, crushed garlic, basil, shavings of Grana Padano, and oil, mixed into a pesto-like blend; wrap with pancetta or something similar, start them cooking in the oven (stuffed chicken can stay undercooked in the middle for longer) and then finish on the grill so that the bacon chars slightly. Finally, chicken that's been stuffed with spinach and blue cheese, or a mixture of spinach, mushroom and coconut cream, also makes for a very different barbecue experience.

And last but not least, the staples of any barbecue. Make burgers from minced lamb, fresh mint, chilli paste and salt and pepper. Serve this with a yoghurt dressing on toasted flatbread. And as for sausages or hot dogs: well, you have salsiccia fresca. Why would you want to mess with perfection?

 

 

RECIPESIngredient of the fortnight: ASPARAGUSWe Brits are very proud of our asparagus: we think it’s the best that you can get. And you know, it’s not bad. But there’s something a bit disheartening—and, simultaneously, greed-inducing—about walking into an Italian supermarket for the first time and seeing piles and piles of beautiful, huge vegetables everywhere. The first time I strolled into Conad, I thought that I’d been shrunk. And the massive asparagus bundles that you can find now are no exception.

 

They’re not in season for long, and they get a bit woody when they’re old, so act now. In order to find the edible bit on a stem, bend it very carefully between your fingers about two-thirds of the way from the top, until it snaps. Then cook it very lightly. Make sure that it goes bright green and is still a bit firm. Serve it with butter, lemon, salt, dairy sauces, and egg-based sauces like hollandaise or mayonnaise. Eggs are good as an accompaniment, full-stop. The taste goes very well with beef, bacon, pear, dark wines and sour cream.BALSAMIC POTATO SALAD

400g new potatoes, boiled and allowed to cool, then sliced in half

1 red onion, peeled and sliced into fine rings

1 small bunch rosemary, tough parts removed and sliced finely

50g cornichons, chopped finely

3 tbsp capers, rinsed

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp mustard1. Mix the mustard, vinegar and oil until it’s a light brown, thickened dressing.2. Place all of the other ingredients in a large bowl.3. Cover with the dressing, stir well and serve.

 

 

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