One of the challenges of summer vegetable gardening is trying to figure out what to do with excess produce. How many loaves of zucchini bread are you willing to bake? What do you do with a dozen Japanese eggplants? What about all those tomatoes? Salsa, tomato soup, and sauces can use up tomatoes (even cherry tomatoes), but what about the stuff you can’t can or freeze?
Sharing with the neighbors is nice, but if you notice that they close their blinds and pretend they’re not home when you approach their front door with yet another shopping bag full of zucchini, you might want to reconsider those giveaways.
One solution may be sitting outside on your patio (no—not the compost bin!). Grill those veggies!
For zucchini and summer squash, remove the stem and blossom ends, then slice to about ½ inch thick. Lengthwise slices are easier to handle, but you can slice crosswise as well. Sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and toss, and let rest while the grill heats up. The salt improves the flavor and helps to draw out some of the excess moisture. After about 10 or 15 minutes, blot the slices with a paper towel and toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil – just enough to lightly coat. Grind some pepper over them and cook on the grill until both sides are browned and they have softened. These are quite addictive and taste great in a salad or dipped in ranch dressing.
I used to hate cooking eggplant until I found out how to do it correctly. Before, I would just peel and slice it, then try to fry it in a bit of oil in a frying pan. Unfortunately, raw eggplant is really good at soaking up oil, so I would go through a lot of oil to end up with greasy, half-cooked eggplant. Then I learned the magic of salt.
Peel the eggplant and remove the ends, then slice either lengthwise or crosswise, and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Table salt works, too, but the flaky nature of kosher salt seems to be more effective in drawing out moisture. Layer the slices with paper towels and place a weight (like a heavy pan) on top. Wait about 20 minutes, then blot the eggplant slices and set aside. This process, called “purging”, helps remove some of the natural bitterness as well.
Brush the eggplant slices with oil and grill until browned on both sides and softened. The cooked slices are especially good with a tahini-based dipping sauce, but I like them plain.
Grilling also works for sweet and hot peppers, onions, string beans, mushrooms, and even romaine lettuce.
Grill thick slices of rustic bread brushed with olive oil, then cut them into 1-inch cubes. Toss with grilled vegetables, some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with some freshly chopped basil, oregano, and parsley, and you have a satisfying meal.
And your neighbors can stop hiding from you.