Grill-Marinated Summer Vegetable Antipasti

tonyr_cook_kTony writes: Antipasto salads (any antipasto really) take me back to 1985: to Sunday nights wedged into wooden booths at the European in Boston’s North End (where, to my continual amazement, there was a mini juke box at every table). The European’s antipasti were simple and abundant, heaping platters of cured meats, cheese, olives and greens; to this day, that’s still my antipasto default. Years later, during cooking apprenticeships in Italy, I learned that antipasti, like Spanish tapas, offer plenty room for creative license: fish, vegetables, and all sorts of cooking methods can also be part of the equation. The antipasti I favor now tend to be vegetable- and grill-centric. They generally include some form of grill-marinating – kind of like quick pickles but with smoke and oil added into the mix. The approach is especially timely now, when there are still loads of summer vegetables left to be enjoyed.

Grill-Marinating (Smoke + Oil+Vinegar): This method is simple: take ripe summer vegetables, season them well, grill them over a medium fire until tender, then toss with something acidic (vinegar or citrus), a sprinkling of a fresh herbs (woodsy herbs like thyme or rosemary work best), and a drizzle of good olive oil. Serve the vegetables warm or at room temp. Or hold them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days; just set them out at room temp for a little bit before serving to take the chill off.

About the vegetables: I favor fleshy vegetables  for this preparation: zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, or onions. Grill them until they’re just done, so they maintain a bit of their toothiness and don’t sog out once you add the vinegar and oil. Red onions are a better choice for the grill than yellow onions; less likely to char or burn. Same goes for plum (Roma) tomatoes which hold up nicely to high heat. Look for smallish zucchini; they have a smaller seed core and stay firm. Red peppers and chiles are easy; big or small, they grill just fine.

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Marinated Rosemary Red Peppers:  Toss 2 red bell peppers (about 1 1/4 lb) with 1 Tbs. olive oil and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt. Grill over a medium-high fire until the peppers brown and the skin blisters, 3 to 4 min. Flip and cook the other side until it, too, browns and the peppers soften, about 3 more min. Transfer to a large plate and drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar, and 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary. Let cool to room temperature, tossing once or twice, and then serve; or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

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Charred Balsamic Red Onions:  Toss 4 small red onions (or 2 medium, about 1 lb. total, cut in 3/4-inch wedges through the core so they hold together) with 1 Tbs. olive oil and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt. Grill over a medium fire until the wedges get good grill marks on both sides and lose most of their bite, about 12 minutes total. Transfer to a medium bowl, add 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbs. olive oil, and 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme. Let sit for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally, and then serve; or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

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Zucchini, Basil, and Lemon: Halve or quarter 1 lb. small zucchini (about 4). Toss with 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle generously with S+P (about 1 tsp. each). Grill over a medium-high fire, flipping every couple of min, until the zucchini browns but is still toothy, about 6 min total. Transfer to a medium bowl, toss with 3 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, and 4 basil leaves (torn). Serve sprinkled with 1/2 cup Parmigiano curls  

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Assembly: Set all of the vegetables on a large platter and serve with your choice of bread, meats, and cheese. I served these with fresh mozzarella, grilled sausage, and grilled crostini.