Light up the grill and suddenly cooking is easier. There's no pan to wash. No smoke to vent out of the kitchen. No discomfort of a hot oven stoking the house on a blistering summer day.
So once I'm outdoors and have the grill ready to go, I like to make the most of my alfresco kitchen. This time of year, that means I'm grilling not just chops, burgers and vegetables, but all kinds of stone fruits too.
It's probably no wonder that their season -- many stone fruits are at their best now through August -- coincides with grilling weather.
When they're ripe but still firm, stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines and apricots take well to grilling. Slice them in half, remove the pit and place them cut side down directly on the rack over the coals. When grill marks appear (the fruit caramelizes at these hottest points of contact), flip them over to continue cooking. Don't let them fall apart; remove them from the heat as soon as they're tender.
How long that takes depends on how hot your grill gets. But there's an easy way to check for doneness: When you can easily insert the tip of a knife into the fruit, it's ready. You can serve the grilled fruit as a starter over a simple green salad with vinaigrette, or for dessert with ice cream.
For an easy and terrific main course, grill some apricots, a red onion and a jalapeno -- the makings of a fruit salsa -- to go with a pork tenderloin. You can start grilling everything, including the tenderloin, at the same time. The fruit and vegetables will be done first, and you can dice them up and put together the salsa while the pork finishes cooking. Add some chopped cilantro to the salsa for a flavor punch and a little honey to deepen the apricots' sweetness.
Another way to enhance the flavor of the fruit is to borrow a pre-grilling method for meat: marinating. With fruit, of course, it's technically macerating. But the idea, in this case, is the same as marinating.
Soak yellow peach halves for an hour (don't leave them much longer, otherwise they really macerate, or break down) to infuse them with more flavor, using a sweet fortified wine and a little sugar. I like using Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, which is rich and honeyed but not cloying; its peachy and floral aromas make it a good match for my peach "marinade."
Grill the peaches just before serving, so they're warm when you top them with vanilla ice cream and toasted almond slices.
For another dessert, I throw plums on the grill. But because they tend to be juicier than peaches or apricots, I've found that putting them in a foil packet works best. That way you don't lose any of the lovely juices as they cook. Best of all, you can make up the foil packets ahead of time.
A couple of quartered plums make a good serving. Dress them up with a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier and a sprinkle of homemade mint sugar. (If you've got a lot of mint, make an extra batch of mint sugar while you're at it -- it's great for iced tea or lemonade.) Once you've assembled the foil packets, you can stash them in the refrigerator until you're ready to grill them. How easy is that?
This aluminum foil version of en papillote (enclosing food in parchment paper and baking it) is a technique that lends itself to many fruits. Try pineapple or bananas or a mixture of stone fruits. You can even toss in a few blueberries; with their thick skins, they hold up well to a few minutes of grilling. And you can vary the flavorings: a scraped vanilla pod instead of mint, or rum instead of Cointreau.
When making the plum version, you can use any variety of plums, but be sure to try Santa Rosas. You'll see them at farmers markets now; you can find them at grocery stores too, but they aren't always labeled as such. It's worth asking, though.
Santa Rosa plums are especially delicious, and there's no reason to let their short season pass you by.
Pork tenderloin with grilled apricot salsa
Total time: 30 minutes
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 firm ripe apricots
1 jalapeno pepper
1medium red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon honey
1. Heat the grill or grill pan to medium. Trim the tenderloin of extra fat and silver skin. Spread one tablespoon of the olive oil over the surface of the pork. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
2. Cut the apricots in half and remove the pits. Cut the jalapeno in half and remove the seeds. Peel the onion and cut it into half-inch slices. Lightly brush oil on all sides of the jalapeno and onion and on the cut sides only of the apricots.
3. Lightly brush the grill or grill pan with oil. Place the pork tenderloin on the grill diagonally, pointing at 10 o'clock, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Pick the pork up and replace it on the grill pointing to two o'clock and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the pork over and follow the same procedure of cooking it on the diagonal and then moving it until the tenderloin is done as desired (145 degrees on a meat thermometer for medium rare, 150 degrees for medium), for a total of 10 to 12 minutes. Cover and keep warm; the pork will continue to cook as it rests.
4. While grilling the pork, place the apricots (cut-side down), jalapeno and onions on the grill. Cook until grill marks appear, then turn and grill the other side. When a knife inserted into the apricot goes through easily and apricot juice is bubbling, remove the fruit from the grill. Remove the jalapeno and onions when grilled to a golden brown.
5. Cool slightly. Dice the apricot, jalapeno and onion into small pieces and place in a bowl with the cilantro and honey. Gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. To serve, slice the pork thinly on the diagonal and spoon the salsa over the top.
Each serving: 186 calories; 23 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 7 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 63 mg. cholesterol; 337 mg. sodium.
Grilled peaches with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour macerating time
4 firm ripe yellow peaches (freestone if possible)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise wine
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon oil
1 pint top quality vanilla ice cream
1. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Place the sugar and Muscat in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat just until the sugar has melted, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place peaches cut side down in a glass baking dish and pour the Muscat mixture over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to macerate for one hour.
3. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
4. Heat the barbecue grill or grill pan to medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peaches from the Muscat mixture and place on a baking pan lined with paper towels. Pour the Muscat mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the liquid is reduced to one-fourth cup, about 15 minutes.
5. Pat the peach halves dry and brush them lightly with oil. Place them on the grill, cut side down, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pale golden grill marks appear, then turn over and grill for a few more minutes, just until a knife inserted in the center goes in easily.
6. Remove the peaches to a serving platter. Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center of each peach, drizzle the reduced Muscat over the ice cream, sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.
Each serving: 227 calories; 4 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 60 mg. cholesterol; 45 mg. sodium.
Grilled Santa Rosa plums with mint sugar
Total Time: 20 minutes
Note: Look for plums that "give" when pressed gently. If the plums are too soft they will be hard to slice.
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
8 firm ripe Santa Rosa plums (sometimes labeled red plums)
1/4 cup Cointreau (or Grand Marnier)
1. Heat the barbecue grill or grill pan to medium heat.
2. Combine the sugar and mint leaves in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a paste. Divide the mixture in half.
3. Cut each plum into 6 wedges and discard the pits. Divide the plums between two 12-inch square pieces of foil. Sprinkle half of the mint sugar over the plums. Fold up the foil sides and carefully pour the Cointreau over to coat the plums, then bring up the sides of the foil to form two leakproof packets. Plum foil packets can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to grill. Remove them from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.
4. Place the packets on the grill and cook until the plums are knife tender, about 4 to 6 minutes depending on the grill. Do not overcook. Divide into 4 bowls and sprinkle with some of the remaining sugar, saving the rest for another use. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 176 calories; 1 gram protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium.