Plant, grow, harvest, grill: A plan for clean eating all summer
Summertime: the sound of birds calling, the feel of the sun on your face and the delicious smell of zucchini sizzling on the grill.
Wait; what? There's more to grill than burgers? According to Marty Mercer, the vegetable, herb and small fruit specialist at Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines, if you've never grown vegetables and then grilled them outside, you've missed out on one of the great delights of the summer season.
Farmer Dan Pilguy, owner of Arlington Crest Farms in Palatine, couldn't agree more.
"I love to grill. When I'm not farming, I'm grilling!" Pilguy says.
The good news is that it is not too late to plant that garden. For the novice gardener, Mercer offers some advice. When choosing a spot for your garden, think good soil, good sun. At this point, it would be best to buy young plants; it's a bit late to start from seeds. Asparagus and onions should already have gone in, and know that asparagus is a plant that needs three years to reach its potential fully.
"I love asparagus on the grill," Mercer says. With vegetables, the technique is more important than a recipe per se. His usual method for grilling most vegetables is a simple marinade of olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper, then just lay them (perpendicularly!) on the grill. Mercer says that green beans are particularly delicious cooked this way. For zucchini and eggplant, Mercer likes to cut them in rounds.
Now is the time for the warm season crops to go in, such as tomatoes, peppers, chilies, zucchinis, and cucumbers. Mercer's garden often contains a variety of peppers and tomatillos.
"I grew up in Texas," he says, "so the first impetus is a salsa garden. What's nice is you can grill your onions, tomatillos, and peppers until they are charred and throw them in a (food processor), pulse it a bit, and you have salsa."
If you want to try your hand at growing corn, remember that it likes room.
"Corn is incredible on the grill. The best way to roast it is to pull back the shuck, get rid of the strings, and then pull the shuck back on. Grilling corn is a participation sport, however! You can't walk away from them -- they need tending and turning." Mercer likes to serve them with herbed butter.
"Grilling vegetables is similar to the joy of gardening," says Mercer." Just go for it. If it doesn't work at first, just try it again, and you'll get better and better at it. Slowly we learn how to place the green beans, so they don't fall in!"
If the idea of grilling vegetables appeals, but the idea of gardening not so much, consider arranging for a Community Supported Agriculture boxed delivery. Pilguy's Arlington Crest Farm, in Palatine, offers boxes or half-box deliveries throughout the growing season. A half-box of freshly harvested produce will feed one or two people, and a full box should feed 5, and possibly more, depending on your habits. You can pick your items if you pick your box up at either the Palatine or Barrington farmers markets. The Arlington Crest newsletter fills you in on what's going on down on the farm and offers up recipes for the vegetables as they are ready for harvest.
The next time you light your grill, think beyond the burger!