I generally have an internal eye roll when magazine covers succumb to a flood of bright summertime barbecue pictures.
Yes, yes, everyone loves a grilled pork chop. Oh, another way to make the perfect burger, super. Let the charcoal vs. gas debate begin again.
But then the first time I smell a neighbor’s grill getting going, summer fever takes over and I too want to throw everything in my fridge on a hot fire.
I’m sure there are pages and pages about how this feeds our ancestral desire to cook over an open flame — connecting with our inner caveman.
Grilling serves two primary purposes for me. One, it moves the bulk of the cooking outside so as to not heat up the house during the already sweltering months. Two, grilled flavors provide a smoky contrast to the fresh, crispness of the best summer vegetables.
Think beyond meat, there are a handful of vegetables coming out of the garden right now that beg for a good grilling. My favorites are our spring purplette onions and radicchio. The key to both is a good char on their leaves while letting them cook long enough to slightly steam the dense core of the vegetable.
Purplettes are red onions that form small bulbs early in the spring. They have long green leaves, just like scallions, and so for me are the best of both onion worlds. You can shave the bulbs anywhere that you would a traditional red onion and use the leaves like you would a scallion. In the two recipes that follow, spring onions are grilled and made into a vinaigrette to dress up a summer slaw and are then the main feature, dressed up only with pats of compound butter.
Radicchio, like most members of the chicory family, has a slightly bitter flavor. Some tend to steer clear of bitter flavors, which is a shame. Bitterness is just like any other flavor in that it craves balance. Pair bitter greens with some fat or some sweetness or both to offset their bite. Cooking bitter greens also mellows that bitterness.