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.