Grilled vegetables with extra virgin olive oil. That sounds easy and fast. But is it really? Only if you know what to do.
My lovely Sicilian girlfriend asked me to cut the vegetables to grill. Simple and easy, add a little olive oil, salt and oregano and you’re done. Delicious with a piece of meat, fish or with some bread.
So I start right away. I wash the courgette and aubergine and cut all in slices! “No!!” she shouts. “Don’t cut them like a sausage, you have to cut them lengthways. Oops, that is already getting more difficult. (tip! use a large and sharp knife for this!)
I start cutting again. Not at random, because I can already feel it coming. Surely all slices must be of the same thickness, so the aubergine and the courgettes all nicely cut. All the same size. It turns out that this is not good either. “Have you never grilled vegetables before?” She asks.
“No, to be honest, we don’t do that very often in northern Europe. Maybe a short crash course would be a good idea? “Then you have to be with my mother”, she says . “She has more patience.”
Here we go: the basics of grilled vegetables by a Sicilian ‘mamma’.
First, courgettes and aubergines are not treated equally. They are two completely different vegetables and require a different approach:
The courgette: it all starts with the purchase. Don’t buy those very big ones that are a little watery and have those big seeds. Small but nice, with a length of 15/20 cm is perfect.
Cut them in slices lengthwise. The secret is in the thickness of the cuts. Not too thin, because then they fall apart, not too thick, because then they will not be cooked. “4 mm is the perfect thickness,” says “la mamma”!
Now the aubergines: new vegetables, new approach. Again, “average size” is fine, so not “the bigger the better”. Buy nice firm vegetables and not those limp wrinkly aubergines you find every now and then.
The aubergine unlike the courgette , is first peeled at my mother-in-law’s house. This is something that leads to outrage among my friends. I am diplomatic by nature. So you can peel them, but you don’t have to. Next, we have to cut them into very thin slices. A sharp large knife is crucial. In Sicily we have those light purple aubergines, different to the dark ones you often see in Northern European supermarkets. We like this better because they come from Sicily, but I think that in Greece or Turkey they think exactly the opposite. Anyway, wafer-thin slices for the aubergine.
Now we are ready to grill. I prefer to use a hot BBQ, but a grill pan also works perfectly. Mazzacchino’s tip: do not use olive oil for grilling (nor any other oil); we’re going to grill the vegetables, not fry them!
If you are going to do this for Sicilian friends (and for other culinary experts) make sure that the vegetables are browned nicely and well-cooked: avoid those pale semi-raw conditions that even rabbits have trouble with eating. Let them brown nicely on one side and then flip them over for the other side. A pinch of salt while grilling is nice, but not too much. You can always correct them this way.
Only as soon as your vegetables are nicely grilled, we will use the olive oil, but let the vegetables cool down first.
The courgette: treat the courgette with a good dash of Mazzacchino olive oil, a little oregano and season with a little salt and black pepper. Just toss, let it stand and then drape nicely on a dish or on a plate. You should taste and see Mazzacchino olive oil, so don’t be too sparing with the oil! (you can always pat the plate clean with a piece of bread after eating the courgette.
The aubergines: a dash of good red wine vinegar to taste, a good few chunks of raw garlic (it will be hard to use too much), oregano, salt and pepper and of course a generous splash of Mazzacchino extra virgin olive oil.
I let the olive oil soak in a bit, but you can serve them right away or even keep them in the fridge for a day. Make sure you take them out of the fridge on time the next day, so that you serve them at room temperature.
Tip: You have some grilled vegetables left? Use them in a couscous salad or as a seasoning on a cheddar cheese or goat cheese sandwich.
Would you like to try this recipe at home? Make sure you use good olive oil!