Do you ever, on one of these warm, wondrous summer days, catch yourself in your imagination lifting the lid on your barbecue and searching the foods laid out there for something a little different? Somewhat off the beaten track? Do you ever pause then and challenge yourself into cooking something you don’t normally serve? If not, what better time than now to do just that?
Recently I had friends over for a Mexican night experience. I had never cooked that style before so it was a treat even for me. Daring to be brave, I jumped over a threshold of typical barbecues and set myself a new challenge. It’s called pick a style or country, and this month’s style is Italian. Now what to do?
Pizza on the rack
It was relatively easy to come up with a plan for barbecued pizza after a little research. Fresh homemade pizza dough, tomato base seasoned with oregano and thyme, Roma tomatoes, pepperoni, home-made mozzarella, a sprinkle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Then place it on the barbecue. Once cooked, dress with some fresh basil from the garden. Easy and so good.
Another thought. Hot Italian sausage with a rich Tuscany tomato sauce. Making this was hard: all thought of devouring the richly seasoned dish before the guests arrived had to be dealt with. I pushed the thought away. The sausages were cooked and sliced and served as an appetizer. Smaller portions were carved and poked with cocktail sticks, to be dipped into the sauce.
You can’t have an Italian barbecue without pasta. First on the list, barbecued chicken pasta salad. I cooked some angel hair pasta and laid out sliced barbecued chicken on top, adding mayonnaise, a little barbecue sauce, oregano, thyme, a pinch of cilantro and green and red peppers. These were mixed together and served, light and flavourful, with a little lime juice squeezed over top to give it that Mediterranean feel.
How can you have an Italian barbecue without meatballs? Answer, you can’t. Make the raw meatballs the usual way, but when they are ready to cook, place them first on the barbecue and cook them. Be careful though; keeping meatballs intact can be tricky. Once cooked scoop the meatballs into the sauce. I served this on a bed of fettuccine, my favourite.
Of course we all need vegetables and the Italians never let us down. Fagiolini al pomodoro – slow-cooked beans with tomatoes, garlic, carrots and onions, bravo! You can cook this vegetable feast in your slow cooker and put it out when your guests arrive, garnished with a little crushed basil.
Finally, you can’t tackle this Italian feast without bringing on a little salad: tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Mix together and dress with some fresh basil.
Remember when serving foods from different cultures, you’ll enjoy them even more if you complement them with wines or beers from the same country. It makes for a fun evening for sure.
After the food they managed to eat at my little soirée, everyone was full, but of course there was room for dessert. Dessert? Well, the one this night actually didn’t originate in la bella Italia. But I’ll leave you to figure out an appropriate ending to this cena deliziosa. If I have inspired you, you are welcome; if this is your normal eating style, way to go you.
Ian Leatt is general manager of Pegasus Publications Inc.