Table for two |

Table for two

Summer dinners on the deck around the grill usually means good times, good friends, and great food! Grilling is the perfect way to prepare meats, but there are so many other foods that benefit from that intriguing smoky flavor like: polenta, eggplant, mushrooms, and most vegetables.

Most of us use our grills primarily for one cooking function – hot and fast grilling – direct heat. Grills can also be used for roasting (indirect heat) making them a much more useful appliance. You can even bake an apple crisp or make a skillet cornbread on most grills.

To create an indirect source of heat for roasting requires a kettle grill that is at least 21 to 24 inches in diameter. Start with coals that are cooled to a medium intensity. You can grill meats and other foods that need a higher temperature first. With a long-handled spatula, move the coals over to one side of the grill and place the dish to be roasted on the opposite side. Put the lid down and you’re roasting’ with coals. It’s always important to turn a dish in order to get even heat. Areas of the grill will vary in temperature.

If you have more than two burners on a gas grill, heat the outside burners and place the dish on the middle unheated burner; close the lid. If you have only two burners, preheat both to medium. Turn one off, and place the dessert/sidedish on that burner. Check the dish at least halfway through the cooking and turn it to ensure even heating. It doesn’t function perfectly even as an oven so keeping tabs on how it’s going is important.

While the grill is still hot from cooking meat is the perfect time to roast a few tomatoes. Denser, less juicy tomatoes are best. Early Girls, Romas, San Marzanos work well. My favorites are yellow tomatoes as their texture becomes almost jam-like after a few minutes of turning on medium temperature. Tomato skins will slip right off when cooled. There’s nothing better than pasta topped with roasted tomatoes (mashed), a splash of balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, grated parmesan, a little chopped basil and olive oil. Roasting whole peppers and storing for later use is always a great idea too. They freeze well and are at their best price this time of year.

The recipes that follow make easy summer dinners utilizing so much of summer’s abundance of produce.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Gratin

One and a half pounds ripe tomatoes, sliced _-inch thick

One pound eggplant, sliced crosswise _ – inch thick

Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One cup grated Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

One teaspoon chopped fresh sage

Two teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano

Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Preheat a gas grill or build a fire in a kettle grill.

Add the olive oil to a small bowl and brush the eggplant slices with it. Arrange slices on the grill, turning once or twice until the eggplant is tender when pierced with a fork, about six to eight minutes total.

Pour remaining olive oil in the bottom of a round pie pan or a 9-inch square baking dish. Add one layer of the sliced tomatoes. Cover them with half of the eggplant and one third of the cheese. Repeat. Top with the remaining tomatoes. Season generously with the salt, pepper and herbs. Top the entire dish with the remaining Monterey Jack and the parmesan. Cover with aluminum foil. Prepare the grill for indirect heat as described above and roast this dish for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Set aside for ten minutes before serving. Generous serving for two.

Perfect campfire or grill food. One or two of these packets of slightly charred vegetables and potatoes is taste bud ecstasy.

Potato Packets Especial

One small red onion, quartered and pulled apart

One red pepper, cut into bite-size chunks

One medium summer squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced fairly thick

One carrot, sliced

Eight to ten whole garlic cloves

Two baking potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

One quarter cup extra virgin olive oil

One half cup chopped basil leaves

Two tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

One teaspoon salt

Generous grating of black pepper

Fresh grated Parmesan or feta cheese

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a kettle grill or preheat a gas grill for indirect heat.

Wash all vegetables and cut to size. Place them in a large bowl and toss with the garlic, olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper. Lay out sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil to make two to four individual packets. Cup the edges of the foil and add the mixture. (You might add 2 tablespoons water to each). Wrap tightly and lay packets on the grill or on a campfire. Depending on the hotness of the fire, they may take from 10 to 25 minutes to cook. Open a packet periodically to check if the potatoes are soft and beginning to caramelize on the bottom. Serve piping hot and top with Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese.

Patti Bess is a local freelance writer and the author of Vegetarian Barbecue. She also worked as a recipe developer for Weight Watchers and Land O Lakes. Patti is the host of What’s Cookin’ on KVMR-FM. Questions or comments at

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