Americans love grilling so much that we tend to think outdoor cooking and outdoor eating are synonymous.
While outdoor cooking is mostly casual, it is good to remember that outdoor eating may be anything from an impromptu, ant-invaded roadside picnic to a carefully arranged and romantic candle-lit dinner on fine china.
My most memorable outdoor meal was a lunch in Sicily. Organized for the sheer pleasure of the day, it was served in the courtyard at Regaleali, the estate cum cooking school and winery of the Tasca-Lanza family.
Along with a few dozen family members and guests, we sat sheltered from the strong sun under huge umbrellas, at long trestle tables covered in impeccable white linen and set with silver and glittering crystal.
An accordionist played while we helped ourselves from huge platters of antipasto, including grilled eggplant, juicy tomatoes, and ricotta cheese we had watched being made that morning.
These were followed by pasta, spit-roasted baby lamb, tender wild greens dressed in olive oil, and platters of sun-warmed fresh fruit.
Everything we ate was grown, foraged, or raised at Regaleali, even the wheat for the hand-made pasta, the olive oil and the lemons for the golden lemonade.
This indulgent repast is a reminder to think beyond the usual burgers and kebabs when planning an outdoor meal, and add at least one interesting meatless dish. A favorite choice, roasted red peppers stuffed with spinach, includes Sicilian ingredients.
This colorful dish adds the dark leafy greens that are mostly neglected when planning a barbecue. Involving some indoor cooking as well as using the grill, it adds brilliant color to the menu.
With pecorino cheese and pine nuts in the stuffing, this full-flavored Mediterranean dish proves you can grill a great meatless main course.
It can also be made ahead and served at room temperature. When time allows, use homemade in place of commercially-prepared roasted peppers - it is worth the effort.
Grilled Red Pepper and Spinach Antipasto
Makes 8 stuffed pepper rolls.
- 8 roasted bell peppers, packed in water (about 1 1/2 jars or bottles)
- 2 packages (6 oz. each) baby spinach leaves
- 2 Tbsp. grated pecorino cheese
- 2 Tbsp. pine nuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Cooking spray, preferably olive oil
- 4 wooden toothpicks
- Reduced-fat sour cream or balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish (optional)
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- Coat a large nonstick skillet liberally with cooking spray and set it over high heat.
- Saute the spinach, constantly stirring, until wilted but still al dente, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a colander or large sieve and cool. Press down on the spinach with your hand to remove as much moisture as possible. Chop the spinach finely and place in a mixing bowl.
- In a medium bowl, mix the cheese, nuts and shallots with the spinach. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, to taste. If desired, refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before using.
- Open each pepper and lay flat on a work surface. Cover two-thirds with the spinach mixture, using about 3 tbsp., and press down firmly. Starting at a short end, roll up the pepper to enclose the filling. Break a toothpick in half and insert a piece near either end to fasten the roll. Repeat, making 8 rolls in all.
- Heat a grill or grill pan. Coat pepper rolls lightly with cooking spray. Grill peppers until heated through and well marked on 3 sides, starting seam side down, about 4 minutes in all. Remove toothpicks. Serve grilled peppers at room temperature, topping with a dollop or sour cream, or a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil, if desired.
Nutritional Information Per Roll:
2 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
4 g. carbohydrate,
2 g. protein,
1 g. dietary fiber,
79 mg. sodium
Diabetic Exchanges: 1 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat