The arrival of spring — finally! — is coaxing everyone outdoors.
If it’s not quite warm enough to eat on the patio, it certainly is nice enough to prepare dinner out there. A hot grill gets the job done quickly, imparting the flavours of summer.
Dishes wind up smoky and slightly charred, with tasty caramelized bits. Everything from appetizers to dessert can be done on the grill, so if you’re stuck in a rut of burgers and steaks, here are a few new reasons to cook al fresco.
Big, meaty portobello mushrooms make great individual-sized pizzas. It’s a delicious alternative to a regular wheat crust, plus it's lighter and lower in calories. And, if you have friends over they can each top their own.
Offer crumbled cooked sausage, chopped ham or pepperoni, caramelized onions, olives — you name it.
- portobello mushrooms
- olive oil
- tomato sauce or pesto
- toppings of choice
- grated mozzarella cheese
Preheat the grill to medium high. Pull out the mushroom stems and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Brush the mushrooms with olive oil, or not, and grill for four to five minutes, until charred and softened. Top with tomato sauce, your choice of toppings and cheese, reduce the heat to medium-low and close the lid for a few minutes, until the cheese melts.
Grill a steak with gremolata
Carnivorous Calgarians will appreciate a grilled steak, cooked outdoors and, if possible, eaten on the patio. A quick batch of gremolata will elevate it to new heights — and it’s delicious over steamed or roasted potatoes, with a dollop of mayo or not, for a quick potato salad.
Once you’ve selected your steak and have decided it’s destined for dinner, pull it out of the fridge so that it can start cooking from room temperature. If it appears wet, pat it dry with a paper towel, and shower it generously with salt. I add freshly ground pepper, too.
Preheat your grill to smoking hot, put on the steaks and leave them for three to four minutes and don’t fiddle with them until they develop a nice bottom crust.
Flip and cook for two to three minutes on the other side. This will give you a medium-rare for inch-thick steaks. You can adjust your cooking time accordingly. Make sure they rest for a few minutes before you cut into them.
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1-2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley, roughly or finely chopped
- a glug or two of good olive oil
Stir, mix in a bowl or food processor, or mash everything together with a mortar and pestle, adding enough olive oil to create a loose sauce. Then store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. The gremolata will improve in flavour after a day or two.
Turn fresh asparagus into finger food
Once asparagus starts popping out of the ground, I eat as much of the local stuff as possible. One of my favourite ways to cook it is on the grill, with a chunk of queso fresco — fresh cheese — splinted to it with a piece of prosciutto.
You can prepare them in advance and they cook in just a few minutes, the prosciutto shrink-wrapping the asparagus and cheese, which gets all melty.
Grilled asparagus with queso fresco and prosciutto
- 1 bunch thick asparagus
- 1 pkg. firm queso fresco (I use Fresk-O white fresh semi-firm cheese, made in Alberta)
- 1 pkg. thinly sliced prosciutto
- reduced balsamic vinegar or hollandaise sauce, for serving (optional)
Preheat the grill to medium-high.
Snap the tough ends of the asparagus off where they naturally break. This isn’t necessary when using Edgar Farms asparagus, as they harvest theirs by hand. Cut the queso fresco into 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick slices and place one piece up against each asparagus stalk. Wrap a single, or half, slice of prosciutto around it to hold it on.
Grill for three to four minutes, turning as necessary, until the asparagus is charred, the prosciutto is crisp on the edges and shrinks tighter around the cheese and asparagus, and the cheese is oozing a bit out each end. Serve immediately.
Grill some sticky ribs
Who doesn’t love a batch of sticky, fall-off-the-bone ribs? They’re easy to prepare in advance – a long, slow roast in the oven will make them meltingly tender, and all you’ll need to do is finish them off on the grill. Make them a day or two in advance (they require almost no prep) and dinner’s ready to go.
Grilled pork ribs
- 2 racks pork back or side ribs
- dry spice rub or salt and pepper
- 1 cup bottled barbecue sauce (I like Cattle Boyz)
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and rub generously with dry rub, or sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for two and a half hours. They can be made ahead up to this point; cool, wrap and refrigerate for up to two days.
When you’re ready to grill, preheat your grill to medium-high. Brush the ribs generously with barbecue sauce and grill, turning, for 10-20 minutes, or until heated through and the exterior is caramelized with crispy bits. Cut into ribs to serve.
Serves four to six.
Grill your veggies
The grill is perfect for quickly cooking your favourite veggies — it imparts a smoky taste and caramelizes their natural sugars.
To give yourself a head start, sweet potatoes can be roasted or boiled in advance and then kept in the fridge in their skins until you’re ready for them — a quick turn on the grill and they’re ready in under five minutes.
They’re delicious doused in maple orange butter, or diced and added to a green salad with feta and toasted almonds.
Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Orange Maple Butter
- 3-4 small-medium dark fleshed sweet potatoes
- olive or canola oil, for brushing
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- finely grated zest of half an orange
Put the potatoes whole into a large saucepan or small pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until just tender when poked with a knife.
Pull them out of the water and set aside until they’re not steaming hot. Meanwhile, heat the butter, maple syrup and orange zest in a small saucepan until melted and smooth.
Cut them, with their skins on, into thick slices or lengthwise into quarters. Brush with oil and cook on a preheated grill, turning with tongs, for a few minutes, or until char-marked (and heated through if you cooked them ahead). Serve the grilled potatoes warm, drizzled with maple butter.
Grill your pizza
There’s no reason to heat up the house by cranking up the oven to the high heat necessary to make pizza. Whether it’s fresh or frozen, raw dough or prepared crust, a grill makes a perfectly crisp, charred crust, with no risk of a soggy bottom. Butter chicken makes a deliciously different pizza — it can be streamlined with bottled sauce, take-out or leftovers.
Grilled Butter Chicken Pizza
- 2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. garam masala
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 14 oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
- 1/2 cup half and half or whipping cream
- 1 lb. fresh pizza dough
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until golden. Add garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, ginger and cinnamon and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Stir in diced tomatoes, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring often for five to 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and sauce is thick.
Whisk in cream until smooth and well combined; simmer for about three minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in chicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat barbecue grill to medium heat.
On a lightly floured surface, stretch or roll dough into two thin rounds and bring them out to the grill on a cookie sheet or cutting board. Flip dough, oiled side down onto preheated grill. Grill, covered, for three to six minutes or until bubbles form on top and grill marked underneath without charring.
Flip over; spread butter chicken evenly all over each pizza. Sprinkle with cheese and green onions. Slide back onto grill, cover and grill for three to eight minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and underside is browned. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.
Serves six to eight.