September is full of fabulous opportunities to fire up the grill and enjoy delicious outdoor dining. Entrees such as juicy burgers, thick steaks, plump hot dogs, and other meaty morsels are tasty traditions, but this season, why not add some sweet heat to your luscious line-up?
Grilling fresh fruit is a sensational way to spark up the palate with farm-fresh, low-calorie, vitamin-rich ingredients. A little bit smoky and a whole lot of sweet, grilled fruits explode with fantastic flavor. Their tantalizing texture is perfect for side dishes, salsas, salads, healthy hors d’oeuvres, or decadent desserts. When exposed to fire, the natural sugars in fruit caramelize and concentrate, resulting in a compelling new concoction.
While grilling fruit is quite simple, there are a few steps to follow to ensure perfection. Whether you use a charcoal or gas grill, your grill grates must be very clean, and free of any charred bits that would make fruit stick. Before grilling, grates should be well oiled with either canola or grapeseed oil. Be sure that the grill is good and hot before placing the fruit down on the grill. Never attempt to grill overripe fruit, as it will not hold it’s shape.
Grilling fruit is actually a perfect use for slightly underripe fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, pluots, and other stone fruits, in particular. Brush halved, pitted stone fruits, such as plums or apricots, with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and grill 3 minutes per side, or until soft, and you will have a lovely base for hazelnut gelato and chopped, toasted hazelnuts. Other nicely firm fruits, such as figs and pears, can also be successfully alchemized into slices of succulence.
Fruits can be grilled directly over moderate heat or over indirect heat, which is less intense. Because the entire grilling process takes only a few minutes, keep a close eye on the fruits, and if necessary, move fruits to a cooler part of the grill during cooking to avoid burning. The ideal is to achieve attractive grill marks and tender, yielding texture. Leave skins and peels on, they can be removed after cooking, if desired. If fruits are cut in half, brush each cut half with a bit of olive or canola oil, to keep fruit from sticking, and place cut-side down on the grill.
Placing fruit directly on the grill is super-quick and easy, but another option is to wrap fruits in foil. For 4 packets, take 8 squares of aluminum foil, about 18 x 18 inches, lay one on top of the other, crumble 2 cups of very crispy cookies, such as gingersnaps, and divide among the 4 foil packets. Cut 8 large peaches or nectarines into quarters and lay on top of cookies. Cut up 4 tablespoons of butter into small cubes and scatter over each packet of fruit. Drizzle a little honey over each, sprinkle with the juice from 2 lemons and a teaspoon of peach liqueur, Amaretto, or Frangelico, if desired. Seal the packets securely by folding each edge into the middle and crumpling the middle to completely enclose the packet. Lay packets on a preheated gas grill, or charcoal grill with ash-covered coals. Cover with the grill lid. Let cook for 10-12 minutes.
Remove from heat, let sit for a few minutes, then open very carefully. This preparation can be elegantly served in glasses layered with ice cream, frozen yogurt or mascarpone, or devoured as is, if camping or picnicking.
Most any fruit adapts well to grilling, including juicy watermelon. Because of it’s high water content, do exercise some awareness when grilling, as it may spurt a bit of water. To grill, cut watermelon into inch thick slabs and brush with lime juice and a little olive oil. Grill 3-5 minutes on each side, then arrange on a platter with baby arugula. Dress with a balsamic vinaigrette and a good grinding of fresh black pepper. Or cut the grilled slabs into smaller chunks and thread on skewers with chunks of high-quality French or Greek feta cheese and drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Strawberries are a surprisingly successful grilling ingredient. Thread fresh strawberries onto skewers and grill for approximately 7 minutes to reach a superior state of syrupy, almost jam-like texture. Remove from the heat, then serve the strawberries by alternating with grilled shrimp, small basil leaves, black olives, and bocconcini — tiny balls of fresh mozzarella — on clean wooden skewers for a sensational summer appetizer. The combination of salty olives, creamy cheese, syrupy strawberries, and snappy shrimp is an absolutely exquisite explosion of flavor.
For an exotic island experience, cut 1 – 1¼ inch thick wheels of fresh pineapple (make sure skin is removed), brush with maple syrup, or soak in coconut rum for 20 minutes, then place on a hot grill. Cook for 5 minutes on each side, then serve with a flower blossom on the side and savor the sweet heat of summer!