Become a grill expert with this simple summer meal
Summer appetites tend to summon extremes in Sonoma County, especially if you are charged with taming the grill.
Barbecue masters need to know the techniques for searing food quickly on direct heat as well as tenderizing meat on more mild, indirect heat, in the same way that residents need to layer in order to accommodate the blazing, mid-day sun as well as the foggy evenings.
After work, the brash heat of the gas grill provides an ideal environment for a quick dinner of grilled chicken and corn. But on weekends, the long, slow, smoke of charcoal, simmering under racks of tender ribs and tri-tips, provides a more gentle climate and deeper flavors.
That’s why Chef Lisa Lavagetto of Ramekins Cooking School in Sonoma is proud to own both a charcoal and a gas grill to meet every fiery challenge.
“If you’re cooking something long and slow, you can’t beat charcoal,” she said. “If you come home from work and want to cook a steak? And veggies? Use a gas grill.”
During the class on Easy Outdoor Entertaining, Lavagetto shared a grilled, Mediterranean menu that was perfectly suited to the summer bounty and climate of the North Bay: Grilled Tomato Gazpacho, Green Olive & Almond Bruschetta, Grilled Smoky Eggplant Salad, Summer Paella with Shrimp and Sausage and Grilled Peaches & Pound Cake with Red Wine Sauce.
“The gazpacho is fun and easy to make, and you can make it ahead of time,” she said. “The secret is good tomatoes, and I like the plum tomatoes.”
The Smoky Eggplant Salad, piled high with greens and finished with Manchego cheese and a drizzle of tomato vinaigrette, makes a perfect starter for a dog-days dinner party.
The Summer Paella, cooked on the grill as well as the stove top, is perfect for people with limited grill space. The vegetables are grilled, then added to the rice mixture simmering indoors on a stove. Then the shrimp, clams and sausage are also grilled separately from the rice.
“The bomba rice from Spain is specific to paella,” Lavagetto said. “You toss it with the olives and peas, then add the grilled seafood and the sausage on top.”
As a rich and decadent delicious dessert, the class grilled peach halves and served them with slices of the pound cake that Elvis Presley’s mom used to make.
“A few years ago, I did a class on Remembering Elvis, and I did a lot of research on how his mother cooked,” Lavagetto said. “It’s the best pound cake I’ve ever made.”
The grilling basics
During the class, students learned how to grill on the outdoor gas grill, the Weber Kettle charcoal grill as well as the Big Green Egg, a ceramic, kamado-style charcoal barbecue cooker that serves as a grill, oven and smoker.
Modeled after the ancient clay cooking vessels of China, India and Japan, the versatile cookers were discovered by Ed Fisher, an American serviceman stationed overseas, who started importing them, then opened the first Green Egg Store store in Atlanta in 1974.
“It’s incredibly easy to use,” Lavagetto said. “There’s a door below for air. Then there’s a chimney at top, to adjust the oxygen intake. The more oxygen, the hotter it becomes. When you are done, you close it down, and you can reuse the charcoal.”