Monday, July 23, 2007

Grilling An Italian Classic

Indian eggplant

Grilling seems to bring out the “inner-chef” in everyone. Even people who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near an oven seem to love the art of the grill. In summertime, I grill as much as possible. It keeps the mess and the heat out of the kitchen, and produces fantastic results.

Most grillers tend to prepare lots of burgers, steaks, and chicken. Why not try some lighter fare? Fish and vegetables are great, healthy alternatives, and taste even better when grilled. When grilling fish, look for firm fish that won’t fall apart during cooking. Salmon, swordfish, and tuna are great options. With vegetables, choose those which will hold their shape during cooking and not fall through your grates. Bell peppers, corn on the cob, zucchini, and eggplant are among my favorites. It is always a good idea to brush your fish and veggies with olive oil to prevent sticking. There are also many non-stick grill sprays on the market, which are designed to spray directly on your cooking grates. I prefer to put the oil directly on my food rather than spray my grill. According to the grill specialist I spoke to at Weber (one of the leading makers of grills), your grill grates and elements will last longer if you avoid spraying them with such products.

Perhaps my favorite dish created on the grill is my own version of Eggplant Parmesan. Traditional eggplant dishes require breading and frying the eggplant, assembling it in a baking dish with sauce and cheeses, and finally baking it in the oven. What follows is a simpler, healthier alternative, which takes only about 20 minutes to prepare. By leaving the skin on the eggplant and cutting thick rounds, the pieces hold their shape beautifully on the grill. Top each one with sauce and cheese, and you have individual eggplant Parmesan rounds that don’t skimp on flavor. Serve a few pieces on a plate with a side salad and you have a healthy, delicious meal everyone will enjoy.

Grilling is a versatile, enjoyable method of cooking that everyone can appreciate, even those trying to lighten up their menus for swimsuit season!

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4

2 medium eggplants, cut crosswise into ½” rounds
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups tomato sauce (use your favorite prepared brand)
6 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded or cut into slices
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your grill to medium-high.
Brush each eggplant round with olive oil, then sprinkle salt on both sides of each piece.
Place the rounds on your preheated grill and cook (with grill cover closed) for approximately 3-5 minutes, or until grill marks appear and eggplant is beginning to get soft.
Flip the rounds so the cooked side is now up, and top each piece with 1 T of tomato sauce, 1 slice of mozzarella, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Cook, with grill cover closed, approximately 3 more minutes, or until eggplant is completely softened (but maintaining its shape) and sauce and cheeses are hot and bubbly.
Carefully remove from grill with grill spatula and place on a platter.
Serve immediately.

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