CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Do I love my grill! Not only does it provide me with the consummate summertime cooking tool, it also offers me the perfect excuse to postpone completing other (less enjoyable) chores like cutting the grass and cleaning out the basement.
Over the years I have touted the virtues of charcoal grilling over gas, but, regardless of your preference, nothing beats the flavor of outdoor cooking. Whether you're searing a hunk of red meat, slow roasting a rack of baby backs or smoking a filet of salmon, grilling improves the flavor of just about any food -- even vegetables.
That's right -- vegetables.
With a little preparation and a lot of imagination, you can coax a whole new palate of flavors out of veggies when you grill them. The key is to be vigilant and cautious because there is a fine line between delicious success and utter disaster. You need to tend them carefully or you could quickly end up with something more akin to forest fire remnants than grilled vegetables.
But it's worth the risk because grilling these edible plants also creates an added benefit for us wine lovers. The smoky, slightly charred flavors of grilled vegetables add a taste dimension that enables normally delicate plants, like say green beans and asparagus, to pair very well with medium-bodied reds and fuller-bodied whites. Say hallelujah!
I'm a big fan of the local-foods movement, and I spend a great deal of time perusing the aisles of our own Capitol Market's outdoor section for fresh produce picked daily by area farmers. Right now, you can find just about any vegetable grown in the Northern Hemisphere -- from all manner of peppers, to corn, green beans, squash and, of course, tomatoes.
You may even find the unexpected. A few weeks ago, I purchased zucchini blossoms (for 25 cents each) at the market, stuffed them with a mixture of goat cheese and provolone and sautéed them in some olive oil. Spectacular! We ate these lovely, delicate morsels as an appetizer and accompanied them with 2009 Natura Sauvignon Blanc ($11) from Chile.
The great thing about grilled vegetables is their versatility in working with both red and white wines. They pair nicely with the 2008 Castle Rock Pinot Noir Carneros ($14) or the 2008 Franciscan Chardonnay ($20).
Marinated and Grilled Veggies
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise in half
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise in half
2 zucchinis, peeled and cut lengthwise in 1/2-inch-wide rectangles
2 yellow squash, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide rectangles
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch circles
1 pound asparagus, bottom 2 inches cut off spears
2 hot banana peppers, cut into 1-inch-long strips (optional)