Yesterday, Election Day, was fine and sunny, and so to town I went on my bike—first to do my civic duty and vote and then to do other errands. After I had voted, ever mindful of the cars, I rode down Winthrop’s small Main St, past the soon-to-be-opening Tubby’s, and to the Food Pantry, where I volunteer, to drop off some paper work. Then, it was on to Dave’s Appliance, to get a new front burner for the stove. The night before, we had quite a little flare-up as the burner decided to self-destruct. For a moment, I even considered going for the fire extinguisher, which has been on the wall for so long that I’m not even sure if the darned thing works. Fortunately, the fire went out before I had to put the extinguisher to the test.
“Well, that one burnt right out, didn’t it?” the clerk at Dave’s asked when I handed him the old one. Before setting out on my bike, I had tucked the old burner in my trusty knapsack, so that I would be sure to get the right replacement.
“Yes, it did.”
“Unfortunately, this burner is one of the expensive ones to replace.”
“Well,” I said, digging in my knapsack for my wallet, “seeing as how we bought the stove in 1991 and have never had to replace the burner, I guess we got our money’s worth.”
“I guess you did,” he said, smiling.
After being warned that the burner’s connector might be going as well—the plug-in end of the old burner was a telltale black—I headed home. The new burner worked just fine, and I was all set to make dinner for our friend Diane Friese, who would be joining us that night.
Diane lives in Brunswick and works in Augusta, which means that it makes more sense for her to come here after work than to make a special trip from Brunswick. In doing so, she saves both time and gas, which ultimately means less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. And if she’s going to come after work, then she might as well stay for dinner. After all, my husband, Clif, and I have to eat, too.
I decided to serve grilled vegetables over pasta. As far as grilling is concerned, Clif and I have come late to grilled vegetables, and we really only started with them last year. But, as the saying goes, better late than never, and Clif and I are now grilled vegetable fiends. Last year, we only had one pan for grilling vegetables, and it really wasn’t big enough for more than a couple of servings. However, this spring, I saw one on sale for half-price at Hannaford Supermarket, and I scooped it up, knowing that with our new-found love of grilled vegetables, it would get a lot of use.
Now, I don’t like to brag, but Clif is already known far and wide for his grilled bread—which we also made last night—and with this additional new pan, I expect he will soon become known for his grilled vegetables. Naturally, there are many possibilities with grilled vegetables, but last night I used mushrooms, sliced thick: broccoli, cut small; sweet red peppers, also cut small; and zucchini, sliced fairly thick.
Onto the grill they went, and Clif came up with a system for cooking them that verged on being an algebraic equation, based on the cooking time of the various vegetables. Since I’m horrible at math, I only partially understood what he did, but it went something like this: After slathering the vegetables with olive oil, he started the peppers and the zucchini in one pan and the mushrooms in another. When the mushrooms looked pretty much done, he dumped them in a bowl and then put the broccoli in the pan. (Note: While Clif was juggling the mushrooms and broccoli, the zucchini and red pepper continued to cook.) Clif let the broccoli cook for just a few minutes because, as he puts it, they tend to get a little too charred otherwise. When the edges of the broccoli began to get black, Clif put them in the bowl with the mushrooms, finished cooking the zucchini and red peppers, and then dumped the mushrooms and broccoli on top of the zucchini and peppers, to warm them a bit before dumping everything into the aforementioned bowl. The heat was on high for the entire time, and Clif estimates cooking time was ten minutes or so from beginning to end.
Phew! I’m exhausted just writing this description, but readers, all the vegetables turned out exactly as they should have—a little charred, a little crunchy, but not too charred and not too crunchy, and most important, none were overdone. What can I say? Alchemy on the grill.
Diane, Clif, and I tucked into those vegetables as though we hadn’t eaten vegetables in years.
“What is it about grilled food?” Diane asked.
I couldn’t answer that question, but one thing is certain, food always seems to taste better when it’s cooked over some kind of flame.
Grilled Vegetables over Pasta
(I’ve already outlined the cooking technique for this dish. What follows is another somewhat inexact recipe for getting to the grilling point and then what to do afterward. What can I say? That’s how I cook much of the time.)
1 very small head of broccoli, cut small
1 sweet red pepper, chopped in big pieces
1 small package of mushrooms, sliced thick
1 very small zucchini, sliced thick
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil (Or more, depending on how much you like basil. To me, it is food of the gods.)
Salt and pepper
12 ounces of pasta (I used penne.)
This is a dish that requires team effort—one person to grill and one person to tend to the pasta and garlic. While the vegetables are being grilled, start cooking the pasta according to the directions on the package. (The vegetables and the pasta should take roughly the same amount of time to cook.) When the pasta is nearly done, sizzle the garlic in a small frying pan in a tablespoon or two of olive oil just until the garlic starts to turn a nice golden brown. (Don’t let it burn! Remove from heat if the timing isn’t quite right and the pasta still needs more time to cook.) When the pasta is done, drain and rinse with hot water, and dump the pasta back into the pot. Add the garlic and olive oil and put the cover on the pot. When the vegetables are ready, put the pasta into a large bowl, and add the vegetables and the basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring the bowl to the table along with a little plate of hard cheese and a grater. Dig in. And as you eat, give thanks for summer, for friends, for grilling, and for vegetables.