Grilling Through The Seasons

Grilling Through The Seasons

Peak summer is a most magical grilling season here in Wisconsin, conjuring up images of sweet corn, zucchini, peppers, and onions piled onto the grill alongside steaks, chicken, and bratwurst. But what many people don’t realize is you can grill many more months of the year, and that the grill is a great tool for efficiently cooking up seasonal produce. 

We grill April through November pretty much as soon as we start harvesting from the hoophouses. Below we break down all the grillable vegetables we sell by season along with some basics about how we cook them. Keep on reading for tools, techniques, grilling combos, and our favorite recipes.

Photo by: Heartbeet Kitchen

Spring grilling 

Asparagus: The ultimate easy grilling vegetable. Rub with oil, salt and pepper and grill spears right on the grates until charred and tender.

Bok choy: Bok choy is also our family’s favorite grilling vegetable. Quarter it and grill with some oil on it until the leaves are starting to brown. 

Garlic scapes: Though a little too garlicky to eat uncooked as a snack, grilling really transforms them. Rub garlic scapes with oil, salt and pepper and grill whole directly on the grates until charred. This will ever so slightly mellow their sharpness so you can snack on them whole. 

Green garlic, ramps, & scallions: These can all be grilled pretty much the exact same way. Drizzle or rub them with oil, add salt and pepper, and grill the stalks whole over high heat until charred. Just like with garlic scapes, this removes a lot of the bite a raw allium has, so you can just snack on them once grilled (they go great with a creamy dip), but you can also make a sauce out of them (again think of a chimichurri style sauces) or add them to dishes.

Lettuce: Heartier lettuces (like romaine) can be halved or quartered lengthwise (or vertically), and grilled over medium heat. Instead of adding oil to the lettuce, clean you grates well and rub oil directly onto the grates. Grilled lettuce has a great smokiness and can be turned into salads topped with parmesan and lemon or blue cheese and bacon.

Mushrooms: Mushrooms can be grilled any number of ways. Larger mushrooms like portobello can be grilled directly on the grates, but smaller mushrooms will need a more delicate touch. They do well in a grill basket, on skewers, or in a foil packet. They can be left whole or diced, and some oil or butter plus salt and pepper should also be added to the mushrooms before grilling.

Napa cabbage: We love to halve or quarter Napa cabbage (leaving the leaves attached to the main stem end for ease), rub it with olive oil, and gril before serving it with a creamy or sesame dressing. It’s one of our favorite summer side dishes. 

Radish: Radishes (which seem like something you would never grill) are another fairly versatile grilling veggie. You can slice or dice them, add some oil or butter, salt, pepper, and herbs into a foil packet. You can also halve them, toss them with oil, put them in a grill basket and cook until the outsides are charred in places. Or you can keep it even simpler and just roast them whole over the grates. This will take 15-20 minutes but it adds a really interesting flavor to a plain old radish you may be tiring of by late spring.

Snap peas: Remove the stem end, toss with oil, salt and pepper, and cook in a grill basket over high heat until charred in places. Eat as a snack or serve with a dipping sauce.

Photo by: Taste of Home

Summer grilling

Beans: Treat exactly like you treated the peas. Remove the stem end, toss with oil, salt and pepper, and cook in a grill basket over high heat until charred in places. Eat as a snack or serve with a dipping sauce.

We also grow Romano beans, which we actually call “grilling beans” at market. We think these are the most tender, best green beans that we grow and prefer to eat these grilled over traditional green beans. They are so wide and long that you don’t even need to bother with the grill basket. Just toss them with oil, salt and pepper, and throw them straight onto the grill. 

Cabbage: Small cabbages work best for this because you can get the slices thin enough without them falling apart. With the core and stem still intact (this helps the cabbage hold together), cut the cabbage into thin wedges. You really want to get as thin as possible without the cabbage falling apart. Cutting a small cabbage into eight wedges is the ideal. Rub cabbage wedges with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill 5-6 minutes over high heat. The edges will get browned and crisp and the centers will be just cooked and tender. If you want it even more tender, you can close the lid during the cooking process. Add a sauce if you like and enjoy as a hearty side dish. 

Kale: Trim off the thickest part of the stems of each kale leaf. Place them all in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss until well coated with oil. Cook leaves flat on the top rack of your grill or on **indirect** heat for 6-9 minutes (or 4-5 minutes if using for a salad). This is a great example of a vegetable you don’t want to grill directly over the flames.

Onions (fresh and cured, with and without greens): All onions, fresh and cured, are great, easy grilling vegetables. Cut them in thick slices, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill on both sides until grill marks appear. You can also cut them into wedges and grill similarly, or try either cut inside of a grilling basket to make sure you don’t lose onion between the grates. Cutting them into large pieces and adding them to skewers or shish kabobs is also a great option. If using fresh onions with greens, remove the greens and cook those too! Just do it separately just like you would a scallion.

Peppers: Peppers are another wonderfully versatile grilling vegetable. You can grill them whole, sliced, or cut into chunks or wedges for skewers. If cutting them into slices, you’re probably going to want to use a grilling basket since those small pieces will easily fall through. The major advantage of grilling slices over whole peppers is more crispy edges (think fajita style peppers) versus a whole pepper which almost gets steamed. You can also just char the outside (and peel it) for any roasted pepper dish. Stuffed peppers are great on the grill too.

Whatever preparation you use, you’re going to want the peppers rubbed or tossed with oil, salt and pepper. The timing will vary greatly based on if you’re doing small pieces (taking just a few minutes) or a whole pepper (taking more like 15-20 minutes). Baby snack peppers also grill up beautifully.

Hot peppers can also be grilled. We love stuffed jalapenos that are grilled. And chilies that have been grilled can be added to a soup, stew, pasta or saute to add a ton of charred complex flavor. If you’re someone who enjoys making hot sauce from scratch, grilling hot peppers before fermenting also adds a great flavor.

Sweet corn: There are two main ways to grill sweet corn: inside or outside of the husk. Inside the husk yields a beautiful, almost steamed end result with husks and silks that are very to remove (because they have been well charred). Outside of the husk yields a smokier, more charred ear of corn. Both are great. It just depends on what you want. You can also husk the corn and cut the ear into 2 inch pieces for a kabob (like in the recipe below).

Tomatoes: Firm tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are a great candidate for grilling. Cooking them quickly over high heat softens them while adding a bit of char and caramelizing their great flavor. They add a great addition to grilled vegetable medleys as well as tossed into a quick pasta sauce or served over polenta. For cherry tomatoes, just toss with oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and add to a grill basket. Cook until charred and almost bursting. For full size tomatoes, cut in half (lengthwise or widthwise), brush with olive oil, add some salt and pepper and cook, cut side down for a couple minutes over direct heat.

Zucchini (and summer squash): Zucchini is one of those vegetables that is truly transformed on the grill. Whether you leave it whole, slice it (lengthwise or into circles), halve it, quarter it, or cut it into chunks for skewers, grilling will add a beautiful char to the tough skin and tender creaminess to the inside of the squash. Whichever way you are trying, be sure to add oil, salt and pepper. The length of time for grilling will depend on the size of pieces you’re starting with and the desired end result. 

Photo by: Better Homes & Gardens

Fall grilling

Beets: To grill, brush with oil, lay out on grates over indirect heat, close the grill and let them cook for 8-10 minutes per side to really bright out their earthy sweetness. If you don’t want to bother with flipping and trying to keep them from falling through, use a grill basket instead. Just know the cooking will be a little more uneven. Serve with dips, eat them on sandwiches, try on salads or in grain bowls. You can also cook beets on the grill in foil packets.

Carrots: In our opinion, the best carrots to grill are the slender bunched ones or those beautiful candy carrots we offer in the fall. When they’re smaller, they can be left whole or halved, brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled (with the grill closed) until tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Fennel: To grill fennel, remove the fronds, cut in half lengthwise. Leave the core intact so it stays together, brush it with oil, add some salt and pepper and grill over high heat on each side for about 4 minutes.

Leeks: Leeks can be grilled much like any other stalked vegetable (think green garlic, scallions, asparagus). Trim the dark green ends but leave the whole leek intact, rub with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill for 20-30 minutes until tender, rotating occasionally so you get grill marks on all sides.

Potatoes: Potatoes can be tricky to grill in a conventional fashion. They are large and dense, meaning they’ll take a long time cooked directly over the grates. The secret is par-cooking (aka pre-cooking before grilling). If you par-boil them in water for 5-10 minutes first, you can add small new potatoes, cubed potatoes, or potato wedges on skewers, in grill baskets, or over grates to crisp up the outside and add that beautiful grilled flavor. Potatoes of any size can also be cubed, diced, or sliced and thrown into foil packets with some butter, salt, and pepper, cooked over direct heat for 20 minutes per side.

Radicchio: You’re going to treat this pretty much exactly the same way you treated cabbage. Leave the stem and core attached, and cut the radicchio into small wedges (probably 8). Rub or brush with oil, and grill directly over heat for 2-3 minutes per side. Add a sauce, some blue cheese, and/or toasted nuts for a great, complete side dish. 

Winter squash: Of all the many ways to enjoy winter squash, grilling probably isn’t the first to come to mind, but if you are looking for a creative new way to use winter squash, there are a couple options for grilling it. First, and probably the easiest/ most fun, is to use your grill like an oven. Cut a squash in half and seed it. Rub it with oil, add salt and pepper, and cook right on the grates (over indirect heat preferably) with the lid closed until its tender. You may need to flip it after 20 minutes so the flesh doesn’t get too charred. You can also treat it like potatoes, par-boiling or cooking before adding it to skewers or tossing it in a grill basket. Foil packets are another great route to go.

Photo by: Foodie Crush

Grilling techniques

We mentioned them all above, but there are five main ways we grill vegetables at our farm. Here’s a little more information on how to do each of them. 

1. Straight on the grill

Honestly, most of the time, we just grill straight on the grill. It doesn’t take much thought and many vegetables (most of the ones you think of right away as grilling veggies) do great this way. 

You can use a charcoal or propane grill, it doesn’t matter much. All that really matters is having a way to control the heat so you can ideally have high direct heat or nice indirect heat for things that need a more low and slow technique. Other than that, be sure to keep your grill grates clean, not move stuff around too much, and you should be good to go! 

2. In grill baskets

This isn’t really all that different from cooking straight on the grill except you’re using something to contain the grillable goods. This is pretty essential when grilling small things or narrow things that will fall through the grates of your grill. We love it for beans, peas, slices of onions, mushrooms, radishes, and any other chunks of vegetables. It allows you to get a nice char on the exterior of the veg.

The main difference you will see in using the grill basket is, the more you put in it, the more the grill basket acts like a saute pan, making the vegetables a bit mushy instead of charred. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re using the grill as a way to cook your veggies quickly, it will do that well and allow you to cook a lot at once. But if char is your main desire, you will simply have to put a little less in the basket or work in batches. 

Another great benefit of grill baskets is that it’s easier to add marinades and sauces during the grilling process. You can easily drizzle or brush a sauce over the vegetables frequently throughout the grilling process when they are in a confined area rather than having to brush each individual vegetable as you would if they were not in a grill basket.

Photo by: The Recipe Critic

3. Shish kebobs (or skewers)

Shish kebobs and skewers are another great vegetable wrangling strategy. If you’re trying to cook a lot of vegetables that are smaller in size, this is a great way to accomplish that without them rolling all over the place. AND because the vegetables can be spaced out easily on the grill, it also allows thing to cook and char evenly without anything getting too mushy. 

The main tricky bit with skewers is considering WHAT you are cooking together. Things need to be similar shapes or sizes, and/or have similar cooking times. In other words, if you put a chunk of potato that hasn’t been pre-cooked next to a chunk of onion or mushroom, you will likely end up with a charred onion, an overcooked mushroom, and an undercooked potato. Skewers take a little more thought, strategy, and knowledge about cook times. 

They traditionally often have meat as well, which again, takes a bit of knowledge or wisdom about how long it will take a piece of meat to be cooked through on a skewer. Pre-cooked sausage (that you are essentially just heating and not actually cooking) is a great place to start. If you’re looking to go meat free, tofu, mushrooms, and a dense cheese (like bread cheese) make a great vegetarian kebab alternative.

4. Foil packets

Foil packets are a great way to cook on the grill and over campfires. They require minimal tools (see below) and can cook even the densest vegetables (like potatoes) relatively easily. The main idea here is making a well-sealed packet with foil so that steam cannot escape. The steam and heat combined, cook the vegetables inside. 

For this to be most successful, you’ll want to grease the inside of the foil, use plenty of oil and butter for flavor, add whatever seasonings you like, and cook over direct heat (right on the coals works best) flipping at least once during the cooking period. Dense vegetables like potatoes will take up to 40 minutes. More tender veggies like onions, zucchini, and mushrooms will take closer to 20 minutes. A combination of tender and dense vegetables are fine, just go with the longer cooking time to ensure everything is cooked through.

5. Using the grill as an oven (or stove)

We don’t talk about this a ton above, but your grill doesn’t just have to be a tool to grill things. I know that sounds funny, but it can also be used like your oven or stove, aka a way to spend more of your summer outdoors and not heat up your kitchen. 

You can do this by purchasing a heat proof skillet (cast irons work great!) and sauteing or cooking right on the grill instead of over a burner on the stove. Or by placing full dishes that you would typically make in the oven (think pizza, stuffed peppers, casseroles, baked potatoes) on the grill, closing it, and surveying the temperature over time. 

Grilling tools

Long tongs: For flipping and handling the produce on the grill, without getting too close and scorching yourself.

Grill basket: I tried to grill vegetables without one of these and realized pretty quickly they exist for a reason, and that reason is to make your life a heck of a lot easier. You should buy one of these if you’re excited about grilling veggies. You won’t be sad you did. There’s a lot of styles out there, and I don’t really have an opinion on that. Look for something that seems large enough to hold a lot of veggies and is easy to wash.

Metal skewers: I love to use metal skewers instead of wood because they’re reusable, and because the ends of the wood always just burn up (unless I soak them first). 

Aluminum foil: Foil packets really only require one thing, and it’s something you probably have in your kitchen already: aluminum foil! Whatever aluminum foil you have on hand will work great, but if it’s not heavy duty, be sure to double layer it. Regular aluminum foil is pretty thin and holes can get poked into it easily. We swear by double layering or keeping one roll of heavy duty aluminum foil on hand for foil packets.

Grill gloves: Depending how much grilling you plan to do, some leather gloves might be helpful to keep the heat from getting to you.

Sheet pans: I love to use a sheet pan (or a couple) to help transfer things from my kitchen to outside near the grill. It’s also a great tool to use for laying out veggies before you coat them with oil, salt, and pepper.

Flavor enhancers

There are two main ways to add flavor to grilled dishes. The first is marinading or adding a sauce while the vegetables cook. The second is just grilling with olive oil, salt and pepper, and adding a sauce after the fact. 

Taste of Home has a great resource with 18 Marinade Recipes for grilling. Most of them are used on grilled meats, but the flavors would work just great on grilled veggies. Check it out and start experimenting right away!

As for adding a sauce after the fact, if it’s a sauce you enjoy on roasted veggies or salads, its likely going to be a great sauce to serve with grilled veggies. We love tahini-based sauces, yogurt-based dressings, herby sauces (like Green Goddess, pestos, or chimichurris), and compound butters. Here’s a few more ideas.

Grilling recipes

Photo by: NYTimes Cooking

Grilled Summer Beans With Garlic and Herbs

Recipe by NYTimes Cooking

Yield: 6-8 servings
Time: 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

 Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 pounds Romano beans, ends snapped and strings removed

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh basil

Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh mint

PREPARATION: 

  1. Build a hot wood fire in your grill. (You can do the same with charcoal. If you’re using a gas grill, place a few hardwood chunks under the grate over one or two of the burners. Heat one burner on high heat and additional burners on medium heat, adjusting the heat as necessary.) Brush and oil the grill grate.
  2. Combine 1/4 cup oil and the garlic in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool. Stir in red-pepper flakes, lemon zest and parsley.
  3. Place beans in a large bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to mix.
  4. Arrange beans directly on the grill or in a wire grill basket. Grill beans until charred and crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes, turning with tongs. (You may need to work in two batches, depending on the size of your grill.)
  5. Return hot beans to the mixing bowl and stir in garlic-parsley oil. Squeeze in lemon juice. Stir in basil and mint leaves and serve.

Photo by: Love & Lemons

Grilled Vegetables

Recipe by Love & Lemons

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 25 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1 yellow squash

1 zucchini

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stemmed

1 small red onion

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 ear fresh corn, cut into 1-inch rounds

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tzatziki, pesto, or Greek dressing for drizzling/serving

PREPARATION:

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Cut the vegetables into similar sized chunks and thread onto 4 metal skewers. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the skewers for 8 minutes per side or until the vegetables are tender and lightly charred. Remove from the grill, season to taste, and serve with desired sauce or dressing.

Photo by: NYTimes Cooking

Glazed Grilled Carrots

Recipe by NYTimes Cooking

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

½ clove garlic, cut into paper-thin slices

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for the carrots

10 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

 Salt

1 green onion, thinly sliced

PREPARATION:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, rosemary, garlic and ginger until combined. Whisk in 2 tablespoons oil so dressing emulsifies; set aside.
  2. Heat grill to low. Coat carrots with oil and season with salt. Grill carrots, covered, turning as needed to prevent burning, until nicely charred and fork tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. When carrots come off the grill, toss them immediately in the prepared dressing. Once they’re coated, use tongs to transfer the carrots to a serving platter and garnish with green onion. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of the remaining dressing over the top. 

Photo by: NYTimes Cooking

Tofu-Vegetable Satay With Peanut Sauce

Recipe by: NYTimes Cooking

Yield: 24 skewers (4-6 servings)
Time: 45 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

For the satay:

1 (14-ounce) package firm tofu, drained

5 large scallions

1 large zucchini (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes

½ large (4-pound) pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

24 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked overnight (or at least 30 minutes)

¼ cup neutral oil, such as canola

For the peanut sauce and glaze: 

3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola

2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced

4 long, red, medium-spicy chiles (such as serrano, cayenne or finger chiles), sliced and seeds removed, if you prefer less heat

6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

⅔ cup/150 grams crunchy peanut butter, natural or conventional

10 tablespoons kecap manis*

*You will find kecap manis at most Asian supermarkets, and it is widely available online. You can substitute by mixing together equal parts dark soy sauce with palm sugar (or brown sugar). Gently warm on a low heat to dissolve the sugar. It will take about 1 minute, then transfer to a jar or bowl. It will last in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

PREPARATION:

  1. Prepare the satay: Place the tofu in a folded dish towel and gently press to remove excess liquid. Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. 
  2. Cut the thicker white and light green stalks of the scallions into 1-inch pieces. Thinly slice the thinner, dark green scallion stalks on the diagonal and reserve for the garnish. 
  3. Make the peanut sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add shallots, chiles and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the peanut butter, 5 tablespoons kecap manis and ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon water, and blend until almost smooth. (It makes about 1 ½ cups.) Transfer sauce to a small bowl. (If the sauce thickens, add more water by the tablespoon until it is pourable.)
  4. Assemble the satay: Place a cube of eggplant onto a bamboo skewer, followed by a piece of pineapple, bell pepper, scallion, tofu and another piece of eggplant. Repeat with the remaining skewers.
  5. Heat the grill or a griddle pan over high. Use a pastry brush to dab the 1/4 cup oil all over the skewers. Once hot, line the skewers on the grill or griddle pan, working in batches as needed. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, turning every 2 to 3 minutes with a metal spatula or tongs, until the eggplant is cooked through. Transfer to a plate.
  6. Prepare the glaze: Mix 4 tablespoons kecap manis with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Brush the glaze all over the skewers. 
  7. Pool about 1 cup peanut sauce onto a large serving plate, spreading it close to the edges of the plate. Lay the cooked skewers on top, then spoon the remaining peanut sauce on top. Drizzle lightly with 1 tablespoon of kecap manis, and garnish with the sliced scallions.

Photo by: Wisconsin From Scratch

Grilled Bok Choy with Miso Gochujang Butter

Recipe by Wisconsin From Scratch

Yield: 2 (generously)
Time: 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 

1 large head of bok choy

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon miso paste

1 tablespoon gochujang (in a pinch, sub sriracha)

PREPARATION:

  1. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high heat.
  2. Cut the base off the bok choy head and separate into individual stalks. Lay stalks out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Mix the melted butter, miso, and gochujang together until completely combined. Brush mixture evenly over the surface of the bok choy stalks. Pro tip: some of the miso gochujang butter will inevitably drip off of the bok choy before it makes its way to the grill. Don’t let a bit of that tasty stuff go to waste – toss it with the grilled bok choy after it comes off the grill for extra deliciousness.
  4. Transfer bok choy stalks on the hot side of the grill (perpendicular to the grill grates), and grill until stalks are tender and leaves are beginning to char, about 5-6 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
  5. Return grilled bok choy back to the baking sheet, making sure to mix it with any of the butter mixture that dripped onto the pan before grilling. Serve bok choy in stalks, or chop into bite sized pieces.

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