Summer is upon us. It’s time to fire up the grill, but this year, try taking your barbecue prowess to the next level. Break out of the hot dog, hamburger, steak, and sausage realm and extend your grilling beyond dinner. Kick up your ‘cue this summer!
Local farmers markets are now in full swing. Stop by and fill your basket with nature’s candy. Peaches, watermelon, plums, pineapple, avocados, even bananas all offer a break from boring when fruit meets flame. Naturally occurring sugars begin to caramelize, textures change, and taste buds start to sing.
When I left my journalism career in 2004 to become a farmer’s wife, I was blessed with having the best backyard in town. Located smack in the middle of a suburban New Jersey neighborhood, Demarest Farm’s sprawling peach and apple orchards were essentially my front and back yards. So what if the 35-acre farm — a mere 20 minutes from New York City — was bisected by residential streets? No one else in town could walk out their door, stroll the orchard, and pick tree-ripe peaches or apples. There is nothing like fruit plucked from the tree and eaten at the peak of ripeness.
My father-in-law, who is now also a Jersey-to-Truckee transplant, has always been quite the grill master. He’d often be found outside in front of the farm stand grilling whichever vegetables were in season. Peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant were among his favorites, but he also would mix things up a bit by throwing some fruit on the fire. And since Demarest Farm was known for its sweet, juicy, and delicious peaches, those were his favorite fruit to grill. His preparation of choice was sweet and simple: grilled peaches brushed with honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Sweet and spicy — yum!
Stop by the farmers market and pick up some freestone peaches — varieties in which the pit doesn’t split and is easily removed from the flesh. Take a sniff of the stem end of the peach. The more fragrant, the more flavorful. You want them to be slightly firm and not overripe. Cut the peaches in half, take out the pit, and brush them with oil. Avoid using olive or other strong-tasting oils so as to not overpower the flavor of the peaches. Canola is a good choice. Place halved peaches flesh-side-down on a grill over medium heat until grill marks form. Flip them over and feel free to dust some cinnamon or brown sugar on the flesh. Adding a small pat of butter to each will enhance the caramelization and delicious flavor. Total cook time is about 8 minutes. Peaches should be tender but not mushy.
Now comes the hard part: Do you want a dessert that is sweet or savory? If sweet is your thing, serve them along with some frosty vanilla bean ice cream. The combination of warm and cold surely will tantalize your taste buds. If savory is more up your alley, serve with a dollop of ricotta or goat cheese, drizzle with balsamic vinegar — even better, a syrupy balsamic reduction — and sprinkle with some chopped walnuts. The warmth of the peaches is just enough to soften the cheese to a nice, gooey consistency. Pure heaven!
Grilled fruits like avocados, plums, and pears make the perfect addition to any summer salad while watermelon is just as tasty on its own as it is accompanied by some fresh seasonal greens. Sprinkle in a bit of feta cheese, dress it with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, and you have a tasty balance of sweet and salty with a touch of vinegary bite. Try making some kebobs, alternating pineapple chunks with either pork or chicken, and basting with teriyaki sauce.
Other than a well-oiled grate to prevent fruit from sticking, there are no rules when it comes to grilling fruit. Your grill pan is an open canvas and the only limit is your imagination.