Since we're all deep into grilling season, I'm guessing most of us agree there's not much in the world of food that doesn't taste better by having spent some time on the grill. Burgers, brats, ribs, chicken, steaks, fish, even vegetables. (A side bonus is that grilling doesn't heat up the kitchen, and there is very little cooking mess to clean up.)
There is something else that benefits from grilling — fruit, either on its own or as part of dessert. If you haven't tried it, now is the perfect time. Those summer fruits we wait all year for are coming in, and while eating them out of hand is one of summer's many pleasures, grilling them adds a whole new delicious dimension.
Magic can happen when fruit meets flame: The flavors intensify, the natural sugars caramelize, and most get even juicier. A good way to try this is to start with the stone fruits like peaches (my favorite), nectarines and plums. Other perfect pairings are pineapples, pears, apples, bananas, mangos, papayas, and even cherries and strawberries. Melons like cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon can also be grilled, but since they contain a lot of water, watch closely or they can get mushy.
Since fruits are fragile, stay away from any that are over-ripe or bruised. The surface should be firm. You should also cut what you're using so pieces won't fall through the grates. Peaches and nectarines grill best when cut in half, removing the pits, of course. Pears also should be halved and cored. Pineapples cut into rounds grill perfectly. All of these fruits can also be cut into chunks and threaded onto skewers or placed in a grill basket.
To peel or not to peel? Most of the softer fruits, like the stone fruits and pears, benefit from having their skins on — it helps them hold their shape and keeps them together. Cherries should, of course, be pitted and grilled in a basket.
Before you start, make sure the grill is clean — scrape off leftover grill crud with a grill brush, then, using a paper towel dabbed with some vegetable oil, gently but thoroughly oil the grates. Get the grill nicely hot to minimize any initial sticking, then lower the heat. Place the fruit on the grill for at least 4-5 minutes to get those essential grill marks, then flip over carefully with tongs or a spatula. Some fruits, like pineapple, will take longer. It's helpful to lower the lid, but don't walk away or answer your phone. Keep a close watch. No scorching, please.
Some grillers will enhance the fruit flavor by brushing the fruits with melted butter and sprinkling sugar, brown sugar, or spices like cinnamon or nutmeg over. However, since sugar tends to burn, do that toward the end of the grilling time. Others will marinate the fruits, but that seems excessive for something you want to be simple. They're flavorful enough. You'll also discover that the smoke from grilling adds something of a umami effect. If as you take fruits off the grill and they stick, don't worry, they'll still be fabulous.
These fruits can be served any number of ways, even as a side for a main course. The preferred way is for dessert. Place the fruit next to vanilla ice cream — heavenly. Wait until you top a slice of grilled cake with ice cream and fruit, either a slice of angel food or pound cake (make it easy — get Sara Lee). Grease the grill lightly again, then grill the cake slices over moderate heat, turning once, until they are toasted. Here are a few recipes to start you off on this unique culinary journey.
Grilled Bananas With Cinnamon and Chocolate
8 bananas, unpeeled
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate
1 teaspoon flaky Maldon salt
16 strawberries, hulled and sliced
Have the grill at medium-high, and make sure the grates are very clean. Keeping the peels on the bananas, slice each lengthwise, just enough to open, being careful not to cut all the way through. Sprinkle cinnamon over the cut sides and divide the chocolate evenly over the top. Place bananas peel-side down on the grill. Cover and cook until the chocolate melts, about 3 minutes. Carefully transfer to serving plates and sprinkle a little salt over. Scatter berries over the tops and serve while chocolate is still warm.
Peaches With Brown Sugar
3 large peaches, pits out and cut in half
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
Small pinch nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Mix sugar, nutmeg, butter and salt in a small bowl. Brush the grill grates with oil, then place peach halves on the grill, cut-side down. Grill 2 minutes, then carefully turn. Spoon a little of the sugar mixture over each peach half. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Carefully take off grill, and place in individual bowls with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.