Now that summertime is in full swing, Americans everywhere are firing up their grills for a good old-fashioned cookout. Folks often forget, however, that alongside the ubiquitous steaks, burgers, chops, chicken, and kabobs, you can cook just about any vegetable on the grill. It’s quick and easy, and tastes better than boiled any day.
One important key, though, is a clean grill. Brush it thoroughly with a stiff wire brush, then remove the loosened carbon particles with a dry rag. Also, as with anything grilled, gas is okay, but real hardwood produces much more depth of flavor.
Summer yields a couple favorites for the grill—corn and zucchini. Their cooking methods are pretty different from each other, but they are both simple, and yield delicious results, especially if they come from your garden.
Corn can cook from raw on the grill, but it’s easier to control if you blanch it first, and you can do this a day ahead if you want to.
Trim each end of the corn but leave the husks on (never buy that pre-shucked stuff in the Styrofoam packages—all the natural sugars have turned to starch). Place in a large pot with a half-and-half mixture of water and milk, enough to cover, and some salt. Bring this to a boil, then shut it off and let it stand, covered, for 60 minutes. If you are preparing it a day ahead, you can refrigerate it in this liquid.
Place the ears around the edges of your grill (the husks should still be on), while you use the center for your entrée. When the husks are well charred, the corn is done. Simply husk and enjoy; with real Kalona butter and a little salt and pepper, it is the flavor of an Iowa summer.
To grill zucchini (or asparagus when it comes back in season next year), simply cut into spears and coat with just a little olive oil—a light coat is important lest a fire result—then a little salt and fresh cracked black pepper. If you wish, you can add a few chopped herbs such as parsley, chives, rosemary, or basil. Grill over high heat, careful to place them perpendicular to the grates so they don’t fall through.
The grill basket is a great tool for a grilled vegetable stir-fry (or would that be stir-grill?). Cut up some of your favorites, lightly coat with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then toss them in the preheated grill basket over high heat. Be sure to add them individually, starting with the denser, longer-cooking vegetables like carrots and finishing with the lighter, quick-cooking ones like snow peas.
Idaho potatoes can be coated with olive oil and salt, then wrapped in foil and grilled for about an hour, turning every 10 to 15 minutes. New potatoes should be ready if the spring rains didn’t ruin them all. If you halve them, boil them following the corn method above, and then skewer them for grilled potato brochettes. Grill them until they are charred to your liking, then salt and serve. Everyone will rave.
Grilling your garden is a great way to share the bounty you’ve harvested, and it’s a good trick for getting dyed-in-the-wool Iowa meat ’n’ potatoes folks to enjoy some wholesome fresh vegetables.
Kurt Michael Friese is Chef Emeritus and co-owner (with his wife Kim) of Devotay in Iowa City, serves on the Slow Food USA Board of Directors, and is Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley.