Memorial Day is an important day of remembrance as we honor and celebrate those veterans who served in our Armed Forces and gave their lives for our country, but it is also the unofficial beginning of summer. Everyone loves a great meal and there is no better way to enjoy the weekend than by firing up the grill.
Italians love cooking outdoors and have many of traditional recipes for grigliata (grill-out). Grilling over fire is the world’s oldest method of cooking and is also one of the healthiest. Italians, especially in the lush spring and summer months, enjoy scrumptious grilled foods which have long been a tradition in the countryside.
As in all recipes, Italians are purists who prepare unadorned grilled delicacies with extraordinary robust flavor, accomplished by using the simplest of methods, with herbs, olive oil, cracked pepper, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, plus of course, a smoky fire. So enjoy these recipes and be sure to save them for later in the summer when we all look forward to bringing family and friends together for an outdoor feast that announces bella vita!
Grilled Caesar Salad
Your grill can been used to prepare this salad as an appetizer. This recipe is not only delicious, but healthy as well. The Grilled Caesar Salad will not fill you up, so you will be able to enjoy all of the other recipes that follow!
2 hearts romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise
3 slices crusty Italian bread, sliced 3/4-inch thick
2 lemons, halved, plus 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp mustard
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Meanwhile, make the Caesar dressing.
In a bowl, add the mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar and garlic. Whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the Parmigiano cheese and continue to whisk. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle olive oil on the romaine hearts and season with salt and pepper. Place the romaine cut-side down on the grill and cook until nicely marked, 2 to 3 minutes. Brush the bread slices with olive oil and place on the grill. Cook until grill marks appear on both sides and the bread is crispy, about 5 minutes.
Spread the sugar out on a small plate. Dip the cut sides of the lemons into the sugar. Place the lemon halves on the grill and cook until slightly charred and grill marked, 2 to 3 minutes.
Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces. Place the romaine hearts, croutons and lemons on a wooden board and serve with the Caesar dressing.
Grilled Bruschetta Chicken
Cooking chicken breasts on the grill is an art. You do not want the breasts to dry out, but want each to be fully cooked. Try this method that uses an open lid for the first side and a closed lid after flipping the chicken. Topped with fresh bruschetta, it makes a delightful and refreshing summer recipe.
For the bruschetta
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
18 – 20 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 pinches of freshly ground sea salt
freshly grated black pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
For the chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp Italian herb blend, fresh or dried
8 oz Fontina cheese, sliced
To make the bruschetta, place chopped tomatoes in a medium to large mixing bowl. Add the chopped basil and minced garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Gently toss all of the ingredients and allow to sit for at least one hour.
Start the grill, make sure that it is up to a medium-high temperature before cooking. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with the Italian herbs. Cook the first side for about 7-8 minutes with the grill lid open. Flip the breasts and add slices of the Fontina cheese to each. Cook for about 2-3 minutes with the grill lid closed. Once the cheese has melted, finish cooking with the lid open another 2-3 minutes.
Place on a serving platter and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar, then top with the freshly-prepared Bruschetta. Serve immediately.
Burgers with Smoky Bacon, Basil and Gorgonzola Cheese
This recipe combines all the flavors that burger lovers crave – creamy blue and white Italian Gorgonzola cheese, melted over a huge burger, on a bed of thick-cut, smoked bacon and topped with fresh basil and tomatoes. This recipe makes four burgers, so adjust the ingredients accordingly to the number that you are serving.
2 lb ground sirloin
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
8 oz Italian Gorgonzola cheese, sliced
4 large hamburger buns
1 lb thick-cut smoked bacon, cooked until crispy
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thick
16 large fresh basil leaves
condiments of your choice
In a large bowl, add the garlic powder and oregano to the ground sirloin and gently mix into the meat. Form the ground sirloin into four 8-ounce patties. Put a small indentation about 1 ½ inches across in the center of each burger. As the burgers cook, this pops out and so that the center of the burgers will cook more evenly.
Add the burgers to a hot grill and cook until the desired temperature is reached. Cook the first side with an open grill. Near the end of cooking, place Gorgonzola cheese on top of the burgers and toast the buns with the grill lid closed. The Gorgonzola will only take about 2 minutes to melt, depending on the thickness.
Remove the hamburger buns from the grill and lay lettuce leaves on the bottom half of the bun. Layer on the well-cooked bacon. Place the cooked burger with melted cheese on top of bacon and lettuce. Add the sliced tomato and four basil leaves. Top with the condiment(s) of choice, but consider using a simple mixture of extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic to spread on each half of the bun.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
When it comes to grilling beef, Tuscany stands head and shoulders above every other region in Italy and the carnivore lovers’ dream steak is Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The steaks comefrom the highly-prized Chianina breed of white cattle, cut at least 2 1/2 inches thick – a perfect size for two. This classic dish is all about the simplicity – in preparation and ingredients, which allows the incredible flavor of the steak to shine through. Adjust the amount of ingredients depending upon the number that you will be serving.
Take the steak out of refrigerator about 90 minutes before grilling to bring it to room temperature. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and fresh pepper to form a crust when grilled. Make sure to prop the steaks up to allow the air to flow around the meat. The grill from a toaster oven works well.
In Tuscany, charcoal or wood fires heated to a very hot temperature are used, but if using a gas grill, make sure that it is set at high for at least 15 minutes before grilling. The steaks will come out even better if you are using a grill smoke box with wood chips.
Place the steaks on the grill and cook for approximately 5 – 6 minutes per side for rare (the temperature normally served in Tuscany). The thicker the cut of steak, the longer you need to grill it. Also note that the tenderloin side will cook faster than the strip, so move the steak around on the grill to place the tenderloin further away from the hottest spot on the grill. Flip the steaks only once.
The exact cooking time will depend on how well done you like your steak. Remember – the steak will continue to cook while resting. Remove the steaks from the grill and allow to rest for 8 to 10 minutes, again propping them up to allow air flow.
Prior to serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracked sea salt and black pepper.
Cut the strip out first, then the tenderloin and slice each section. Keep the bone in place around the slices. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Caper Sauce
Grilled swordfish is one of the signature dishes of the southern coast of Sicily. The breading in this recipe creates a crust that helps to keep the swordfish from drying out when grilling. This recipe also brings together two of Sicily’s other notable ingredients – lemons and capers, to make a creamy and delicious sauce.
8 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
4 swordfish steaks, cut 1 inch thick
1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup Italian-seasoned panko crumbs
sprigs of Italian parsley for garnish
sliced lemons for garnish
For the lemon caper sauce
8 tbsp olive oil
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1-1/2 cups Italian parsley, minced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
1/2 small jar of capers, rinsed thoroughly
Drizzle each swordfish steak with olive oil and spread the oil evenly on all sides. Using a shallow mid-size bowl, pour in the Italian seasoned bread crumbs and panko crumbs. Place each oiled swordfish steak onto the bread crumbs and panko crumbs and then turn over, making sure that the steak is covered on all sides.
Preheat the grill and while it is warming up, prepare the lemon caper sauce. In a sauce pan add the olive and butter. Heat over a low medium flame until the butter has melted and then whisk in the heavy cream. Add the lemon juice and zest, followed by the parsley, garlic and oregano. Whisk to combine. When the sauce begins to bubble, turn the flame to its lowest setting and add the capers. Simmer while grilling the swordfish steaks.
Grill the steaks on a medium-low flame for 2 minutes on each side until the bread crumb coating reaches a golden-brown color. The thicker the steak, the longer the time necessary to cook through, but each should be moist and tender inside.
Remove the swordfish steaks from the grill and place onto a serving platter. Add about 11/2 tablespoons of the lemon caper sauce to the top of each steak. Pour the remainder of the sauce into a small bowl. Garnish the platter with sprigs of fresh-cut Italian parsley and slices of lemons and serve with the additional lemon caper sauce on the side.
Spiedini with Chicken, Vegetables and Bacon
Italian skewers are known as spiedini and are an easy way to grill chicken, meat or fish with vegetables. In Italy, not only skewers of metal or wood, but long twigs of rosemary presoaked in water are also used. Some of the favorites to add to the spiedini, in addition to chunks of meat, poultry or fish are cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, bacon or pancetta and fresh herbs.
2 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into pieces 3/4 inch wide
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb bacon
juice of one lemon
2 small zucchini, sliced 1 inch thick
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
16 – 20 cherry tomatoes
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
shredded fresh basil for garnish
Soak wooden skewers in water prior to using or use metal skewers.
Marinate the chicken pieces in a bowl with the lemon juice and the minced garlic for at least one hour.
Wash vegetables and cut as directed. Prepare the skewers alternating the vegetables, with the chicken and strips of bacon.
Pre-heat the grill until medium-hot. While the grill is heating up, prepare the vinaigrette glaze for the spiedini. In a small bowl whisk together the balsamic vinegar and olive oil until well combined, then add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.
Place the skewers on the grill and baste with the vinaigrette. Cook the skewers with the grill lid open. When chicken and vegetables on the bottom side of skewer get dark grill marks, turn 90 degrees and baste again; repeat until skewer is fully cooked. Remove the skewers from the grill and serve.