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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Great Balls Of Fire

Yep, I did it again.

After spending a long hot day at the pool last weekend, Michael and I kicked off the outdoor grilling season with a bang.  The thrill of the grill.

I cubed a small veal shoulder chop before threading the pieces onto soaked wooden skewers with alternating layers of  sliced Sugar Ann sugar snap peas and sliced red bell peppers. After whisking 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme, rosemary, and lemon zest, I  poured the marinade over the skewers before  sliding them into the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.

Grilled Vegetables? Armed with a bundle of market produce, I kept it simple.  Very simple. I sliced four small baby fennel bulbs into quarters, keeping the root ends intact. After peeling four candy onions and removing the dried tips, I sliced them in half before tossing them with the fennel, quartered roma tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Usually, Michael  lights  the fire when we grill outdoors because I tend to overdo things a wee little bit.  I'm one of those guys....buckets of coals doused with a lot of charcoal fluid. Yep. Big. Bigger. Biggest. Best.

For some reason, after prepping everything for our little cookout, I meandered out onto the back deck, and forgot our unspoken rule.

I lit the grill. 

Fire in the hole.
Raging inferno.
We had fire.

While waiting for the flaming fury to die down, I brought the veal skewers to room temperature. When the coals were ready, I carefully placed the vegetables cut side down over the hottest part of the grill. Within minutes, the vegetables melted from the heat. After turning them several times until they were gorgeously charred and caramelized, I wrapped them in aluminum foil to keep warm on the cooler side of the grill.

I filled a chilled pint glass with a crisp chardonnay, pulled a comfy deck chair near the glowing coals, and nestled the kabobs onto the grill. Sip. Baste. Turn. Repeat. Simple.  After 18 minutes, the veal kabobs were  a tender pinkish medium with bits of soft char.  I pulled them from the heat and tented them to  rest for 10 minutes.

While the meat rested, I whipped together a quick sauce by melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan. When the butter sizzled, I added  1/4 cup marsala wine, 1/2 cup chicken stock, and a splash of fresh lemon juice. I brought the sauce to a boil, turned it down to a simmer, and  reduced it by half.

I swirled the sauce onto our plates before stacking the skewers with  a scattering of  fresh julienned red peppers for bursts of freshness. After pulling the silken fennel, onions, and tomatoes from the grill, I tumbled them over nutty rosemary-flecked quinoa, finishing with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Delicate, lean, and  tender, the veal  provided  a subtle background to the intensely sweet grilled vegetables. Meat on the grill.  The reason for the season, right? Almost. Yeah, the veal was fantastic, but the caramelized baby fennel bulbs, candy onions, and tomatoes changed the game. Prime time vegetables. Big hitters. Tinged with a slight char, their natural sweetness deepened from the smoke and heat, transforming them into soft bites of smoky anise-flavored vegetable jam. 

We ditched our forks and ate with our fingers, peeling the fennel layers apart and swiping them through the puddled sauce to use as wraps. Fennel-wrapped veal. Tomato-wrapped onions. Onion-wrapped quinoa.

Unintentional finger food.
Sticky, messy,
and fun.


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