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Published June 04, 2013, 11:55 PM

Flame & Flavor: Simple summer side dishes, part 2

Years ago, we visited Tony’s Zia (Aunt) Pinuccia and Zio (Uncle) Pipo in southern Sicily, and spent 12 wonderful days of summer with them.

By: Sarah and Tony Nasello, INFORUM

Years ago, we visited Tony’s Zia (Aunt) Pinuccia and Zio (Uncle) Pipo in southern Sicily, and spent 12 wonderful days of summer with them.

They live in the small town of Rosolini but spend the summers at their beach home on Sicily’s southern coast, between Pozzallo and Pachino. Their home is literally 200 feet from a beautiful private beach, nestled into a little bay, conveniently protected by a large rock formation on its western side. In other words, it’s paradise.

Sicilians retreat to the beach the same way we retreat to the lakes of Minnesota and North Dakota, and I was surprised by how familiar their beach lifestyle was to me. In spite of its prime location, Pinuccia’s cottage is lovely but simple – nothing like what we’d expect to see along an oceanfront here in the U.S. It’s truly Sicilian, right down to the beaded-curtain doorways.

Just like at the lake, everything about beach life in Sicily revolves around the outdoors, even the cooking.

Sicilian summers are intensely hot, and Pinuccia and Pipo preferred to cook as much food as possible outside, in an effort to keep the house cool. They used their wood-fired, open-air brick oven for everything from meat to vegetables, and even pasta at times. While the menus would change from day to day, a few things remained constant:

1. There would be a ton of food, including a pasta course and a meat course, in addition to numerous side dishes.

2. Grilled vegetables would be on every menu.

Ever since I’ve known him, one of Tony’s favorite food mantras has been, “Always remember to eat your colors,” a reminder to include fruits and vegetables with every meal. Grilled summer vegetables feature a rainbow of bright colors and bold flavors, and make eating one’s colors a true pleasure.

Grilling brings out an astonishing level of flavor and is a great way to preserve most of the nutritional qualities of vegetables. The intense heat from the grill causes the natural plant sugars to caramelize and creates a smokiness that balances the heightened sweetness.

A perfect example of this is Tony’s favorite grilled vegetable, the red bell pepper. When eaten raw, this vegetable is crunchy, slightly sweet, somewhat tart, and nice in a mild-mannered kind of way. But, when grilled, the red pepper takes on an identity worthy of its flashy name and becomes smoky, sweet, succulent and juicy.

Tony varies the assortment of vegetables based on what’s in season, but red peppers are always included. This is very Sicilian, as his mother Marianna is also partial to red peppers and serves her famous roasted red peppers whenever we visit her in Toronto (but that’s a whole other story).

For this recipe, Tony has grilled red, orange and yellow bell peppers (never green ones), asparagus, zucchini, cremini mushrooms and red onions.

We love the ease and versatility of grilled vegetables, which are simple to make and can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled.

For additional Sicilian flair, Tony finishes the grilled vegetables with a coating of (simple) red wine vinaigrette. Make a batch now, and keep it on hand throughout the summer as we’ll also feature it with some upcoming recipes.

And don’t forget to check out Tony’s online cooking videos at InForumTV.com for extra tips.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

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