In Spain they call it, a la plancha. Italians refer to it as, a la piastra. In Greece, on a staz. No matter what you call it, it’s a centuries old Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables, fish and meats. In Spain they use a round metal plate, but in Greece they use a piece of sheet metal placed directly on the grill. From Italy, a stone or a metal plate creates a hot flat surface over an open flame. Essentially, it is a flat metal or stone griddle, set over a grill grate over an open flame. Mediterranean cooks know how to grill their vegetables because these grilled vegetables never tasted so good.
This technique does not produce fancy crisscross grill marks on your grilled vegetables, but what you do get are tender vegetables that retain some bite and have a good sear from the stone or griddle. Ultimately, the more surface area that touches the vegetables, means more flavor on your grilled vegetables from the sear. Another bonus is, no more vegetables falling through the grates and flare ups. Mediterranean style grilled vegetables are sweet, lightly flavored from the fire’s smoke, and seared to perfection.
A New Way with Grilled Vegetables
It all started yesterday on an impulse after coming upon the phrase, “… a la piastra,” in one of my cookbooks. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me with the realization of a refrigerator full of vegetables and an old cast iron griddle begging for use. With my fingers crossed and plans for dinner and a blog post on the horizon, I decided to give “A la piastra” grilling technique a try. It was just meant to be.
I do love the flavor of grilled vegetables, but when I grill chicken or meats, I don’t always grill vegetables for a side dish. Mainly, I do not want my whole dinner tasting all the same. Also, depending on how many people we are cooking for, there is just no room on my 22-inch charcoal grill.
Because this was somewhat impulsive, and I was “recipe testing”, I did not cook the vegetables in an organized manner, but fit the different vegetables here and there along with our dinner of stuffed rainbow trout. I was not sure how long the grill would stay hot, so I cooked things together instead of one at a time. Regardless of my cooking organization, I don’t mind a hodgepodge of grilled vegetables because my job was to use up a bunch of vegetables and test out this grilling technique. I call this mission a delicious success, hodgepodge or not. Now, I have a beautiful mess of tasty grilled vegetables ready whenever I want them.
Grilled Vegetables a la Piastra
What I discovered is if you have a cast iron pan or griddle, they create a hot surface to make delicious grilled vegetables, fish and meets. I have yet to test other types of food, but I can’t imagine there is an issue using this technique for shellfish, chicken or steak. Grilling a la piastra or plancha, works particularly well with thin vegetables or sliced vegetables that would normally fall through the spaces on a grill grate. I loved using this technique with thinly sliced zucchini, asparagus, sliced onions, and garlic scapes. Some additional vegetables I want to try are fennel, eggplant and mushrooms.
It is my opinion that grilling bell peppers works better over the open grill grate. They just took longer to get blistered and charred when on the hot surface vs the grill grates. Also corn works better over the open fire and by better, I mean it does not take as long to cook.
Fruit like lemons and oranges grill nicely on a hot plate, but my mind is not made up for peaches. My peach halves stuck to both the grill grate and the cast iron griddle, but this was also the first time I grilled peaches.
How to Grill Vegetables a la Piastra
First, this technique is best using a charcoal grill, but I believe will work with a gas grill, but you won’t get the smoky flavor. Using either grill you must make a hot fire that will last for a while depending on how much food you are grilling. Get the charcoal good and hot, then place the griddle pan or stone on your grate. Heat up your griddle surface for 15 minutes until the surface gets really hot. Close the lid if you are using a gas grill, keep the lid off if you are using a charcoal grill.
Once the grill is hot, oil the grill grate. Do not oil the hot griddle. It is possible that the oil soaked paper towel could burst into flames from the heat of the pan. Instead, generously coat the vegetables and fish in canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point. Arrange the vegetables on the surface of your “griddle” and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the vegetable.
Depending on the surface area of your plate, you will need to cook the vegetables in shifts. Just to be organized, cook the same vegetables all at the same time. Once done, remove the vegetables off the grill and place them spaced out on a tray or plate. If you pile them up, the vegetables will steam and get soggy.
Once done, let the grill plate cool completely before handling. If possible, use tongs and a scrubby to scrape off any stuck on bits while the surface is still hot. It is easier to clean off the charred bits when the plate is still hot, but not at the expense of getting burned.
Equipment for Grilling Vegetables
- You need a grill, preferably a charcoal grill but a gas one will work fine.
- Good quality charcoal without lighter fluid and a charcoal chimney to start the coals.
- BBQ quality oven mitt or glove.
- A cast iron pan or griddle, pizza stone, baking steel or food grade metal or stone surface that can tolerate temperature up to 700°F (371°C). Some pizza stones can only withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C) or lower.
- Long metal BBQ tongs without plastic tips.
- A good BBQ spatula.
- Several trays for putting the grilled vegetables on.
- A timer is helpful
What to do with all these grilled vegetables?
Serve grilled vegetables with grilled fish, grilled tofu, grilled chicken or steak, or roast chicken.
Assemble a platter of grilled vegetables, olives, cured meats, cheeses and crusty bread. Dine al fresco for a light dinner or a cocktail party.
Make a light pesto dressing with muddled basil leaves, smashed garlic, olive oil and vinegar and dress the grilled vegetables.
Grilled vegetable sandwiches with crusty bread, basil mayo or sriracha mayo, with Gouda or mozzarella cheese (smoked or plain) and grilled vegetables.
Frittata with grilled vegetables.
Where to buy a La Plancha griddle pan?
The Big Green Egg has a la plancha griddle for the Big Green Egg. It could work on other round grills depending on the size of the pan and your grill. (Not an add)
Lodge makes a round carbon steel griddle pan. They also make griddle pans in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Not an add)
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style
- red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 red onion sliced into rings about ¼-inch .5 cm thick
- 1-2 leeks sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned and root and dark green parts trimmed off
- 4-6 garlic cloves peel on
- 2 zucchini sliced lengthwise into ¼- inch .5 cm thick slices
- 1 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch .5 cm thick slices
- 12 or more asparagus spears ends trimmed
- 8 garlic scapes optional
- 2 lemons cut in half across the width.
- 1 peach cut in half across the equator optional
- 2 ears of corn husk and silk threads removed optional
- 1 fennel bulb stalks removed and sliced in 1/4 -inch (.5 cm) slices (optional)
- 2-3 TB Canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 loaf French bread sliced on a diagonal optional
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB Red wine vinegar
- 1 large bunch of basil leaves cleaned and stems removed
Prepare your grill. If using a gas grill, heat to 450°F (230°C). For a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney to the top with charcoal. Rest the chimney on the charcoal grate. Light the chimney according to manufacture instructions. Heat the charcoal until all the coals are very hot. They will look mostly grey with streaks of black throughout each lump or briquette. Put on an BBQ mitt and carefully empty the hot charcoal onto the grate. Add an additional half chimney’s worth of charcoal and spread out over the hot charcoal. Arrange the charcoal over the bottom of the whole grate, but with one side having more charcoal than the other. Place the top grilling grate on the grill and the grill pan over the side with the most charcoal. Heat until the grill pan and grate are good and hot, about 15 minutes. Close lid if using a gas grill. The grill pan is hot when you flick water on the grill pan and it bubbles up and dances on the surface.
While the grill is heating up, add the zucchini slices, asparagus and scapes in a large bowl and drizzle about 1 TB (15 ml) of oil over the prepared vegetables. Use the remaining oil to baste the remaining vegetables. Arrange the onion slices and leek halves on a sheet pan and baste with oil on both sides. Baste some oil over the cut surface of the cut lemons. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables, except the bell peppers.
When the grill is hot, arrange the bell peppers on the side of the grill without the grill pan. Every few minutes, use long tongs to turn the bell peppers over so the whole pepper gets a good char and is blistered, about 15 minutes. Once the bell peppers get black all over, place them in a medium bowl and tightly cover with foil and plastic wrap. Set aside to allow the peppers to steam in the bowl for at least 15 minutes.
If using corn on the cob, place them on the grill grate with the bell peppers. Start the corn when you start the peppers. Cook the corn turning them periodically to get an even char on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.
Meanwhile, arrange the onion slices, garlic cloves and leeks on the grill pan. Cook for 2 minutes then turn over on the other side. You want the onions and leeks to get soft with a nice sear on both sides. Once done, remove from the grill and place on a tray. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The garlic is done, when you see some brown spots on the peel and they are soft in the middle.
Place the lemon halves cut side down on the grill or grill pan and cook until a good sear develops on the cut side, about 3-4 minutes.
When there is room on the grill pan, arrange the zucchini and yellow squash slices on the grate and cook about 2-3 minutes per side. You want browned surface on both sides and tender slices of squash with a slight crispness. Place the squash on a tray when done. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Cook the asparagus and garlic scapes on the grill plate. Turning each asparagus spear and garlic scape over around 3 minutes per side. You want the asparagus and scapes to get soft but still have some bite. When done, place the vegetables on a tray. Lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat.
If you are grilling the fennel add the fennel slices when there is room on the grill pan and cook 3 minutes per side, or until soft but still firm. Place on a tray when done. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and black pepper and toss to coat.
Add the sliced French bread, if using, on the grill and toast until the bread is golden brown. How long it will take will depend on how hot your fire is at this time.
When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the skins off the bell peppers by rubbing your hands over the charred skin and pulling off the skin until it is all clear. Do not run the bell pepper under water, or you will wash away all that delicious flavor you worked so hard to make. Clean hands and remove the core from each pepper and slice into slices.
Remove the garlic peels off each clove. Take 1-2 grilled garlic cloves and rub it over the toasted French bread. Add any remaining cloves to the vegetable platter.
Arrange all the vegetables on a platter in piles. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and torn basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Grilled garlic scapes taste great minced and placed on top of ricotta cheese toasts. Or, mince and add to the olive oil and fresh basil, then sprinkle over the grilled vegetables.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This time of year I keep my eye out for ramps, a stunning wild and rare plant with a unique flavor all of its own. Ramps have two green leaves the color of spring green with an oniony stem that turns from green to purple to a creamy white at the bulb and root end. I believe they are as beautiful to look at as it is to eat, but I am a total fan of green and purple foods.
There are countless ways to prepare ramps, but my favorite way is to grill them. When grilled, the harsh garlicky bite turns sweet and compliments the smoky flavor from the grill. If you have never tried them before, grilled ramps are simply delicious and the perfect introduction to their unique onion flavor. All you need are a couple of grilled ramps to pair with your favorite grilled fish, meat or vegetables with a side of potato salad for a memorable spring BBQ feast.
Likewise, grilled ramps make an excellent hors d’oeuvres. Mix them with fresh ricotta cheese and lemon zest then smear it on grilled French bread. The ricotta tones down the sharp bite from the ramps but is makes a creamy garlicky lemon blend that tastes great on grilled toast. Only use fresh ricotta cheese and not the commercial brands. The ricotta flavor of these toasts stand out with the ramps and commercial ricotta just doesn’t sing the way homemade or freshly bought ricotta does. Seared toast with a smear of ricotta cheese and grilled ramps are a crowd-pleasing appetizer at any cocktail party, graduation party, or picnic in the park.
If you want to have a more potent grilled ramp flavor, omit the ricotta just add 1-2 grilled ramps per slice of bread. Chop them up and arrange them decoratively on each slice then add a squeeze of lemon juice right before serving.
Ramps are a member of the Allium family with a harvest season of only three weeks in May/June. The taste is like a cross between garlic cloves, scallions and leeks yet has its own unique garlicky-oniony flavor. Often ramps are referred as wild leeks or spring onions, ramps are neither. They are simply and uniquely ramps.
Because they are rare and only grow in the wild, people get ecstatic when they spot them at the farmer’s market or out in the wild. Like a lot of rare food finds they have a devoted following among chefs, home cooks, and foragers. But their popularity has led to some problems. As I was researching ramps for my post, I learned that ramps are on the protected plant list in Quebec Canada and on the watch list along the eastern continental United States.
The reason for the protection status is because of over harvesting combined with the length of time it takes for ramps to make seeds, germinate seeds and grow mature enough for harvesting. Like a lot of wild plants, it takes several years. Because of the slow germination period, as explained in this article in Epicurious, only 10% of a single crop should get harvested over the course of the season. Unfortunately, as with most trendy wild foods, they are in high demand and command a high price. The higher the price the greedier foragers get and pull up more ramps than the regulated amount and the plant cannot sustain its life cycle.
Eat Ramps Responsibility
Once I learned about ramps protected status in Canada and being on the watch list in the US, I felt very guilty not only for buying them but posting a recipe with ramps as the main focus. I take these concerns very seriously. Yet, I believe if we eat ramps as a special treat and not excessively then the ramp population can sustain itself. It is the consumer’s responsibility to demand responsible behavior from the farmer and not support foragers and markets that do not follow the guidelines for foraging ramps. If we get greedy and take more that is sustainable and buy from individuals not following the rules, there is a strong likelihood ramps will get protected status list as it is in Canada. Hopefully chefs, and especially celebrity chefs, will take action and help protect ramps like they have done in the past.
More Ways to Cook with Ramps
Add fresh ramps as a substitute for chives in Cheese and Chive Herb Bread.
Replace the leeks with chopped and sautéed ramps then add to Leek Asparagus Risotto.
Mince then sauté ramps then add to the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary.
Use sautéed ramps to replace the garlic in Garlic Bread.
Grilled Ramps, Two Ways
Grilled Ramps are delicious hot of the grill or minced into fresh ricotta cheese and smeared on toasted French bread.
Serve hot grilled ramps with your favorite grilled meat or fish like Arctic char or with other grilled vegetables. Or, mix them up with fresh ricotta cheese, lemon zest and mint then smear on toasted bread for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Perfect for a cocktail party.
Substitute grilled or braised leeks for the ramps with one clove of roasted garlic.
The toasts are best eaten as soon as they are make or the bead will get soggy and stale.
- 16 ramps
- 1 Tb Extra Virgin Olive oil
- 1 pinch of Kosher Salt
Grilled Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
- 12 slices of French baguette cut thin on the diagonal
- ½ lb. fresh ricotta cheese
- 16 grilled ramps
- Zest from half a lemon
- 5-6 small mint leaves chiffonade
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat your grill, gas or charcoal to up high with the charcoal pushed to one side.
Clean, dry and trim off the root from each ramp. Cut away any soggy parts of the leaves, if any. Place the ramps on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with Kosher salt. Toss the ramps about using your hands to get the olive oil and salt evenly distributed over the ramps.
When your grill is hot, lay the ramps in a single layer over your grill and away from the coals to cook with indirect heat. Turn them over after a couple of minutes and grill the other side until charred and beginning to get soft.
You can also grill ramps indoors with a grill pan on a burner. Depending on the size of your grill pan, you will need to grill the ramps in batches.
Remove from the heat and enjoy hot or make into an appetizer. If serving as a side dish figure on 2 ramps per person.
Crispy Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
Toast both sides of your bread until browned on your grill or under the broiler. Set aside.
Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl. Cut the green leaves off the ramps and mince the ramp bulbs . Add them to the ricotta.
Set aside a few, about 3, ramp leaves for garnish. Chop up the remaining leaves and add to the ricotta.
Grate the lemon zest into the ricotta and add the chiffonade mint. Stir everything together and taste. Correct the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spread a spoonful, about 1 tablespoon, of the ricotta and ramp mixture over each toasted slice of bread. Garnish with thin strips of grilled ramp leaves and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Recipe for Braised Baby Artichokes bathed in a sauce made from a reduction of the braising liquid, anchovies and capers.
The birds outside are particularly chirpy today and it just might mean sprinter, spring that feels and acts like winter, is moving out. The light sing-song of robins is so cheerful and upbeat, it is hard to imagine anymore sprinter surprises. As I gaze outside my window, I can see all the animals in my yard scampering about like preschoolers on a play-date. “Olly Olly all come free,” it is safe to come out of hiding.
What does all this wildlife activity have to do with food? It is a reminder and affirmation of good things to come. Something which I appreciate after the long winter hibernation. The first of the local spring vegetables are ramps, spring mushrooms, and asparagus. Yet, these local harvests are not yet available, and I must look westward and south for fresh produce. I am so envious of the produce I see displayed all over Instagram from California farmers markets. California food bloggers and chefs spill their bounty on the kitchen counter and photograph their treasures for all of us to see, making me want to transport myself into their photo. Our day will come, at least the ground is no longer frozen.
Recipes with Spring Produce
California Baby Artichokes
In the meantime, we can enjoy produce, like baby artichokes, from California and pretend we are in full spring bloom. Baby artichokes are spilling over the produce baskets at grocery stores across the country. They are more tender than full size artichokes, but no less flavorful. At this stage the baby artichoke bud has yet to develop the choke, making them slightly easier to prepare and eat. I believe them to be the perfect size and an ideal first course meal or appetizer.
Seeing artichokes always brings me back to my childhood in Northern California, where artichoke plants grew wild in the hills around my neighborhood. I thought they were the strangest looking plants around and I never touched them. To me they were like the dinosaurs of the plant kingdom, with their prickly and ancient looking buds and jagged leaves.
I’ll never forget the first time I ate an artichoke when I was a young girl. I gladly tried them being ever so eager to appear older and more sophisticated than I was. As I sat staring at my steamed artichoke, I studiously watched and listened to Dad’s instruction as he peeled off each leaf, dip the bottom fleshy part in warm melted butter then scrape off the meat between his teeth. With each step, Dad would explain and demonstrate how to get to the heart of the artichoke, what he referred as the “prize” and purpose for all that work. He spoke so ominously about the choke, saying we would choke if we ate the choke, hence the name. This terrified me, but his safe and loving expression in his fatherly eyes told another story, so I proceeded cautiously but without hesitation.
Braised Baby Artichokes
Up front there is more prep work when you braise baby artichoke hearts, as opposed to steaming them whole, but the hearts get nicely flavored from the braising liquid and become so tender. Fortunately, because they are small it does not take that much time to trim off all the outer leaves. Braised artichokes are delicious eaten straight from the braising liquid, but I like serving them with a warm sauce made with the braising liquid and anchovies and capers. The anchovies and capers add extra body which compliments the mild artichoke flavor but does not overwhelm it. I purposely kept the anchovies on the light side for that reason.
If you are not a fan of anchovies, reduce the braising liquid as mentioned but omit the anchovies. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference then drizzle the sauce over the baby artichokes. This cooking method is also delicious with full-grown artichoke hearts.
Braised Baby Artichokes with Anchovy Caper Sauce
Baby Artichokes are braised in a stock seasoned with lemon, garlic, white wine and herbs. The artichokes are finished with a sauce made with a reduction of the braising liquid, anchovies and capers. There is just enough of the anchovy flavor to compliment the artichokes.
Delicious first course meal, appetizer or vegetable side dish.
- 16 baby artichokes about 1 lb. 9 oz (729 g)
- bowl full of water
- 1 lemon
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and green germ removed
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 5 black pepper corns
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Anchovy Caper Sauce
- Braising Liquid
- 2 T TB extra virgin olive oil Or butter
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 1 tsp capers drained and rinsed
- 1 TB white wine or vermouth (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- garnish with chopped parsley or chives
Peel off three strips of lemon peel with a vegetable peeler. Set them aside. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and set aside.
Fill a medium bowl with water and the juice of one lemon. You want just enough water to cover the artichokes.
Trim the artichokes. Pull off the tough outer leaves by pulling them straight down and off. Continue until all the tough leaves are off until you get to the tender light green leaves.
With a sharp paring knife, trim a sliver off the end of each stem and clean around the edge where you pulled off the leaves. You do not want to cut away any of the artichoke meat, just trim the base to clean off any fibrous parts. Trim off about a 1/4 inch off the top of the baby artichoke.
Cut the artichoke lengthwise into quarters. As soon as you are finished prepping each artichoke, add the sliced wedges into the bowl filled with lemon water. The lemon water will prevent the artichokes from discoloring.
In a sauté pan add 2 TB of extra virgin olive oil and heat up over medium heat. Add the slices of garlic, lemon peels, sage, bay leaf, black peppercorns, fennel seeds to the olive oil and sauté for about a minute. Add the artichokes, 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) of the lemon water and Kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and turn down the heat. Simmer the artichokes until they are tender when pierced with a fork or to taste, about 20 minutes.
Once the artichokes are tender remove them using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to keep warm. Taste the braising liquid and add wine or vermouth if needed. Boil the braising liquid and reduce to a 1/2 cup (125 ml). Add the anchovies and break them up in the sauce. Add the capers. Simmer briefly to meld the flavors and taste. Adjust the sauce with more wine or other seasoning if needed.
Arrange the artichokes on a platter or shallow bowl, drizzled with the anchovy caper sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest.
Braised baby artichokes are best eaten warm or at room temperature. The braised artichokes can be chilled, but the sauce should be warm.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Now that it is officially spring, we can look forward to young spring asparagus. These odd looking green spears push through the thawed ground just in time to dissolve away the winter blues. The early spring asparagus spears are tender and often thin, needing little in the way of preparation and adornment. I found the simpler the better for these young spears. If you grow your own asparagus, then you know how sweet and fresh the first spears taste. My friend grows asparagus and eats the first spring spears raw because they are that delicious and tender.
I am not as fortunate as my friend, so I rely on the store and farmer’s market for my spring asparagus. From the farmers market they are slightly older than just picked, however at the grocery they are much older. When buying asparagus look for spears with tight tips and smooth skin. As they get older, the tips open and look like they are about to sprout. If you have the room, stand the asparagus spears, loosely packed and upright standing in a container with a shallow layer of water. If not, untie the bundle and let them rest loose in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Spring Asparagus
The best preparation is to cut off the woody end about 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom. Though, how much actually depends on how old the asparagus was when harvested. I used to bend the asparagus in half and let the spears break where the woody core ended, and the fresh stalk began. Often, I felt there was a lot of waste using the bend and break technique, so I started cutting them and gauging for myself. If the asparagus spears are older, you may need to trim off a longer piece. You can feel with your fingertips where the tender part and the woody part meet.
As the season progresses, and with fatter asparagus spears, the stalks become fibrous making the outer skin stringy and hard to bite. I peel a thin layer, using a vegetable peeler, off the skin from the bottom to about an inch or two below the tip. You can peel the asparagus if you want a fancy dressed-up presentation as well. Early in the season, and with thin asparagus spears, you won’t need to peel the spears, only if you want to. Check out my recipe for Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise how to peel asparagus spears. You can also use the orange mayonnaise with this recipe as well.
Click on this link for nutritional benefits of asparagus.
How to Cook Asparagus
This stove top grilling method produces asparagus the whole family will enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how this cooking technique turned our sons’ heads and hearts and they began eating their asparagus. Needless to say, we started cooking asparagus using our grill pan all the time after that. No complaints, no “Eat your vegetables,” conversations at the dinner table. Life was good. Before the grill pan method, I would quickly blanch asparagus, then season with butter or olive oil. It produces great asparagus, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite.
To make stove top grilled asparagus, all you need is a grill pan or skillet, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. My grill pan does not accommodate a full pound (466 g) of asparagus, so I cooked them in two batches. A larger 12-inch (30 cm) skillet might hold a pound (466 g). As the asparagus cooks in the pan, the heat gently chars the asparagus in spots creating extra flavor. You do not get the smokiness of the outdoor grill, but there is just enough sear for extra oomph.
More asparagus recipes
Early Spring Asparagus
Early spring asparagus is tender and sweet and does not need a lot of extra adornment for the flavor to shine. This is a simple preparation using a grill pan or skillet and nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper, with or without balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
Herbs like basil, tarragon, thyme, chives or arugula flowers taste delicious with asparagus. Fresh lemon or orange zest. You can also garnish with chopped walnuts and/or a diced hard-boiled egg.
- 1 lb (466 g) fresh asparagus
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of Kosher Salt less than half teaspoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar optional
Place a grill pan or heavy-duty skillet on the stove set to medium-high heat. Let the pan heat up. Place you hand about 6 inches (15 cm) above the pan. If the heat is starting to feel hot and uncomfortable then your pan is ready, about 4 minutes. It should not be smoking hot.
While waiting for the pan to heat up, Using a sharp knife, trim off the woody end of the spear, about 2 inches (5 cm). Place the spears in a bowl.
Drizzle the spears with extra virgin olive oil, and add pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Arrange the spears in one row across the grill pan or skillet. You won't fit the whole pound (466 g), but add as much as you can fit in a single layer. Allow the spears to cook undisturbed for a few minutes, then turn them over on the other side. Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes more and turn again. Keep cooking and turning until the asparagus spears are just tender when pierced with a fork but still has some bite.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle some balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar over the asparagus spears and turn over a few times to coat.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I feel like I am jumping the gun today by writing a post and recipe for succotash. It is March, almost April, and without a doubt corn and baby lima beans are summer vegetables. Yet, I have delicious memories enjoying succotash with my Easter dinner. This vegetable dish is one I could eat in any season in a year. Fortunately, good quality frozen vegetables are available making it possible to eat this light but hearty side dish whenever I please. I happen to love succotash, especially paired with ham.
My first introduction to succotash was after getting married and living in New York. Succotash was a regular vegetable dish at my in-laws Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. I clearly remember how my sister-in-law made it with corn, lima beans, green bell pepper and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Green beans are sneaking into my memory recipe as well but not as clearly as the other ingredients. It was love at first bite. When I went for seconds, I usually came back with another helping of succotash.
There is just something about succotash that sings to me. Maybe because this meal has a simple nature implying ease and comfort. Or, because each vegetable compliments the other for a harmonious vegetable medley. The flavors taste fresh, sweet and light, even when made with frozen vegetables.
Also, what’s not to love about saying “Succotash” with its fun and jazzy rhythm. As it happens, Herbie Hancock believes succotash has a jazzy rhythm as well and wrote a song titled, “Succotash” on his Inventions and Dimensions album.
History of Succotash
Succotash dates back to New England Native Americans from the word, msíckquatash, meaning boiled cut corn kernels. Back in the 17th century succotash mostly consisted of corn and native beans like cranberry beans. The English settlers soon adopted this hearty and nutritious stew and made it throughout the year from dried corn and beans.
Succotash grew in popularity throughout the US during the great depression and other eras of economic hardship. The ingredients were readily available and inexpensive and made a meal with a lot of sustenance. Over time, succotash evolved from a stew into a lighter side dish made with additional vegetables added to the corn and beans. Any succotash variation is acceptable, as long as corn and beans feature prominently in the ingredients.
With the invention of refrigeration and frozen foods, we can enjoy succotash year-round. However, make this with fresh corn during the summer months when corn is sweet and beans are fresh and just harvested. You will need to soak and cook the beans ahead, but the corn will quickly cook with the other vegetables after the fresh kernels are cut right off the cob.
Serve succotash with a grain like brown rice or farro for a plant-based main entrée meal. When legumes and grains combine they create a complete protein with all the essential amino acids accounted for.
During the winter months, substitute the zucchini with winter squash.
Make succotash with corn, cranberry beans and green beans with a splash of cream and choice of a fresh herb.
Use succotash for the filling of a pot pie, either with grains or other proteins like chicken or turkey.
Make succotash into a vegetable soup just by adding vegetable or chicken stock with some aromatics. Or, turn it into a crab and succotash chowder with fresh crab and cream.
Succotash is a vegetable dish traditionally made with corn, and cranberry beans. This recipe builds up from the traditional recipe by adding to the corn lima beans, zucchini, sweet bell pepper, onion and fresh herbs. Any fresh herb like sage, thyme, tarragon, chervil or basil will nicely compliment the corn and vegetables.
For a plant-based main entrée, serve succotash with a grain such as farro or brown rice.
- 1 lb (16 oz / 454 g) frozen corn 4 ears of fresh corn
- 10 oz (285 g) frozen baby lima beans
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large Vidalia onion about 10 oz (300 g)
- 1 red or green bell pepper 7-8 oz (219 g)
- 1 tsp Kosher salt, divided
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 zucchini about 1 lb (454 g)
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 oz (87 g) grape tomatoes
- Several rounds Freshly ground black pepper
- 5-6 leaves fresh sage tarragon, basil, chervil, lemon thyme
Prep the Vegetables
Defrost the frozen corn and lima beans. If using fresh corn on the cob, slice the corn kernels off the cob and set aside. Peel and dice the onions. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and white pith. Cut into long 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) strips then dice into 1/2-inch (1.5 cm) pieces. Peel, remove the green germ and mince the garlic. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise, then each half into quarters, lengthwise. Cut across each wedge into pieces about a half-inch wide (1.5 cm). Slice the grape tomatoes in half. Set each vegetable aside in separate piles.
Sauté the Succotash
Place a large sauté pan or skillet, about 12-inches (30 cm) or larger, over medium-high heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil and heat up. Before the olive oil gets hot and smoky, add the diced onions and bell pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables with olive oil, and add ¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt. Sauté until the onions are translucent but not browned, and the vegetables have softened, about 4-5 minutes
Add the minced garlic. Stir and cook until the garlic releases its aroma, about a minute.
Add the zucchini and stir to mix the vegetables together. Add the thyme sprigs, another ¼ teaspoon of Kosher salt and several rounds of fresh black pepper, and stir. Continue to sauté the vegetables until the zucchini starts to soften, about 4 minutes, but is not cooked all the way through.
While the zucchini is cooking, slice the fresh sage leaves, chiffonade cut, and set aside.
Add the corn, lima beans and tomatoes. Stir, taste and correct the seasoning with more salt. Sauté the vegetables until they are cooked through and the corn and lima beans are warm, about 4 minutes. Add the sage and stir. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, sage, or black pepper if necessary. Turn off the heat.
For another version of succotash, make it with corn, lima beans, green beans with a splash of cream. Season with herbs like tarragon, chervil or basil.
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