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Asparagus sings with a red pepper, almond and tomato sauce

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It’s time to revisit grilled vegetables! I was recently tagged in a post where the author said that she was taught to grill vegetables dry and then season them when they come off the grill.

I don’t know what she was grilling and she seemed very happy with that method but it made me think about all the people who were now going to try to grill their summer vegetables without oiling them first. And anyone who has read one of my books, articles or grilled with me knows, my mantra is “oil the food, not the grates.”

It makes sense that you would oil the vegetables to keep all the juices inside and prevent them from drying out. After all, dried fruit and vegetables are made by slowly dehydrating (the juices out of) them. A little bit of oil creates a barrier that prevents the natural juices from evaporating as the vegetables cook and the oil promotes caramelization, a.k.a. those great grill marks. This is important because grill marks equal flavour, and a juicy vegetable is much tastier than a dried-out one.

Grilled vegetables are good all on their own, but they are even better with a great Romesco sauce to drizzle over them or dip them into. Romesco sauce is a red pepper, almond and tomato sauce that hails from the Catalonia part Spain where it was originally served with seafood and charred onions. Romesco is gaining popularity in the states and I have seen it served with just about everything. It is my favourite summer condiment and I use it to dress up grilled shrimp, fish, poultry, meat and all manner of vegetables. My version calls for fireroasted tomatoes and one large roasted red pepper, so it is more tomatoe-y than pepper-y which is my preference. If you prefer the taste of red peppers to tomatoes, switch the ratios and use 1/2 the amount of tomato that I call for and double the red peppers. I don’t not use the bread which is in the classic recipe to thicken the sauce because I don’t want to muddle the pure vegetable and roasted garlic flavour, and I like a looser texture.

Grilled asparagus and Romesco is my favourite combination. And, this time of year, asparagus abounds. So, the recipe that I am featuring is for Grilled Asparagus with Fire-Roasted Romesco Sauce but you can use the same basic principle for any quick-cooking vegetable. Just remember to place the vegetables horizontally across the cooking grates so you get maximum grill marks and they won’t fall through the grates. If you place them parallel to the grates, it will be easy for them to slip through and fall through the grates, and that would be a pity!

GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH FIRE-ROASTED ROMESCO SAUCE

Serves: 4

Start to finish: 1 hour

Grilling Method: Direct/medium Heat

Grilled asparagus is my favourite, but don’t stop there. Charred whole scallions, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms are all better for a bit of Romesco sauce. It’s all good. Throw in some grilled bread and it’s great!

1 pound fresh asparagus (Look for large stalks with firm deep green or purplish tips and moist ends)

Olive oil

Kosher salt, about 1 teaspoon

Romesco Sauce (recipe below)

Rinse asparagus and snap or cut off bottom. Place asparagus in a re-sealable plastic bag and drizzle just enough oil in the bag to coat all the spears. Seal bag and turn spears to coat evenly in the bag. Sprinkle with salt, reseal bag and turn again to evenly distribute the salt.

Place asparagus on the cooking grate over direct heat for 3-5 minutes or until marked and caramelized. Turn spears occasionally to grill each side. Asparagus should begin to brown in spots (this indicates that the natural sugars are caramelizing) but should not char.

Remove from grill and serve immediately with Romesco sauce.

Fire-roasted Romesco Sauce

Servings: 32, or about 4 cups

Grilling Method: Indirect/medium high heat

2 pounds of ripe plum tomatoes or 2 cans Fire-Roasted Tomatoes

1 roasted red pepper (see recipe below)

1 head garlic, roasted (see recipe below)

3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, more if needed

1/2 cup blanched or Marcona almonds

1 tablespoon freshly ground ancho chili

1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

1-2 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt; more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry tomatoes. Cut out the core and drizzle the centre of each tomato with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a disposable aluminum tray and place in the centre of the cooking grate. Grill-roast for 30-45 minutes or until tomatoes are caramelized and soft. (Note, this is also a good time to roast the pepper and the garlic the pepper will take about 15 minutes and the garlic will take about 45 minutes.) Remove from grill and let cool in the pan, making sure to keep any of the juices that escaped.

Peel and seed peppers and remove garlic from skin and set aside. Using a food processor or a blender, place tomatoes, their juice, roasted pepper and roasted garlic together and puree. Add vinegar and almonds and puree until smooth and uniformly chunky. Add ancho chili and smoked paprika and pulse to combine. Slowly add olive oil until you like the consistency of the sauce. Add salt and pepper and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with salt and pepper. Use immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. (I store the sauce in glass mason jars—this recipe fills 2 pint jars, you can keep one and give one away!)

Roasted Red Pepper

Rinse and dry pepper. Grill over high direct heat, turning until skin blackens and blisters all over. Remove from grill and immediately put in a paper bag or sealed plastic container until cool. Note: the steam will loosen the skin from the flesh of the pepper. Skin and seed the pepper (the skin will slip off easily). Use as directed in recipe.

Roasted Garlic

1 head garlic

2 teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt

Remove first layer of papery skin from garlic. Slice off top 1/2-inch from pointy top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and cook on grill over medium-high indirect for 40 minutes or until cloves are golden-brown and soft. Alternatively, place in a 350 F oven. Remove from grill or oven and let cool. Follow recipe instructions.

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