BBQ Cook-Off

Recently we had guests over for dinner and the conversation turned to how to achieve the best backyard barbecue. Fortunately, several of the people were serious home chefs who love to cook.
Two of our foodie friends, Lou and Stephen, got into a heated conversation about how they prepare meat or fish, how long it takes to fire up the barbecue, different spices to use, and the effort it takes to make a successful barbecue.

After much discussion, we all came to the conclusion that there should be a cook-off. Lou and Stephen both chose to barbecue salmon — Lou opted for Cedar Plank Salmon with veggies, while Stephen marinated his salmon in a sealable storage bag with peanut oil and whiskey.
Salmon is very versatile — it can be cooked whole, cut as either a boneless fillet or a steak, and has the texture needed to hold together during the grilling process. It also has a range of flavor from rich to mild, and can take on a char without losing its unique taste.

We chose a date and location for the cook-off. Guests were required to bring side dishes — roasted peppers with anchovies, potato salad, coleslaw, corn on the cob, beans and an array of salads. For dessert, I volunteered an olive oil cake, a recipe by Dario Cecchini, the famous Tuscan butcher from Italy whom I feature in my new cookbook, “Italy Cooks.” This is the only dessert he serves in his Ristorante Solo Ciccia.

After dinner, each guest was asked to choose the best barbecue chef. Ballots were handed out and we were asked to vote on two categories — taste and presentation. An impartial judge tallied the votes in what turned out to be very close competition. Stephen was the winner in the taste category, and Lou won for best presentation.

∗ (Roasted Peppers With Anchovies) (From “Italy Cooks” by Judy Zeidler)
∗ 4 to 6 firm, crisp red, yellow or green bell peppers
∗ 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
∗ Olive oil
∗ 1 jar or can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets
∗ Parsley sprigs for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 or 450 F.

Place a large sheet of foil on the lower rack of the oven. Place the peppers on the rack above, in the middle or top of the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the skin has puffed and darkened slightly on top. Turn each pepper over and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Remove the peppers from the oven, and while they are still warm, carefully peel off the skins. Pull out the stems and discard the seeds. Cut the peppers into segments that follow their natural ridges. Layer the peppers in a bowl with their juices, the garlic and enough oil to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to serve, arrange the peppers on a serving dish and garnish with anchovies and sprigs of parsley. Or place an anchovy fillet in the center of each segment, roll up and place a toothpick in the center.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

The delicious dressing is prepared with only three ingredients — mayonnaise, sugar and lemon juice. It is best prepared no more than two hours before serving.
∗ 1 cup Mayonnaise Sauce (recipe follows)
∗ 1 large head green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cored and shredded
∗ 2 large carrots, shredded

Prepare Mayonnaise Sauce, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine cabbage and carrots. Toss with Mayonnaise Sauce, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.

Makes 8 servings.

∗ 1 cup mayonnaise
∗ 2 tablespoons sugar
∗ 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
∗ Salt to taste
∗ Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, blend together mayonnaise, sugar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Potato salad can always come to the rescue at party time, as it can be made ahead and served with so many dishes, from sandwiches to entrees. I add lots of crunchy, colorful vegetables to a classic recipe to perk up the potato flavor.
∗ 12 small red-skinned potatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
∗ 1 tablespoon kosher salt
∗ 1 1/2 cups diced celery
∗ 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
∗ 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
∗ 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
∗ 4 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
∗ 1 cup mayonnaise
∗ 4 green onions, finely sliced (1/2 cup)
∗ 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
∗ Salt to taste
∗ Freshly ground black pepper to taste
∗ Red and yellow bell pepper slices for garnish
∗ 1/2 cup minced chives for garnish

Scrub potatoes well with a vegetable brush, but do not peel.
In a large heavy pot, cover potatoes with cold water. Add kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender when tested with the tip of a knife, 15 to 20 minutes (remove smaller potatoes first to prevent overcooking). Cool and dice.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, celery, diced bell peppers and hard-cooked eggs. Add just enough mayonnaise to moisten ingredients; toss gently. Add green onions and parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss again. Garnish with red and yellow bell pepper slices and chives.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.

∗ Dry Rub (recipe follows)
∗ 4 center-cut salmon fillets with skin (4 ounces each), cut 3/4 inch to 1 inch thick
∗ 2 teaspoons salt
∗ 2 carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into four pieces
∗ 2 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
∗ 1 red bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and cut into 1-by-4-inch pieces
∗ 4 white button mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
∗ Juice of 1 lemon
∗ 2 teaspoons olive oil
∗ 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
∗ 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
∗ 2 cloves garlic, minced
∗ 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (optional)
∗ Lemon slices for garnish

Prepare Dry Rub.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle both sides of salmon with rub, about 3/4 teaspoon per piece; rub seasoning into salmon. Place 2 salmon fillets on their sides, with the skin back-to-back, on the prepared baking sheet, repeat with remaining 2 salmon fillets, and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Soak the cedar plank in water for 3 or 4 hours. Light charcoal in barbecue and move the charcoal to the sides. Place a drip pan in the center.

Prepare an ice-water bath.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil; add 1 teaspoon salt. Add carrots, and cook for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer carrots to ice-water bath. Place potatoes in a separate small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to ice-water bath. When vegetables are cool, drain and reserve.

Transfer the salmon fillets, with the skin still back-to-back, onto center of cedar plank. In a medium bowl, combine carrots, potatoes, bell pepper and mushrooms. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, oil, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, parsley and garlic; toss to combine. Transfer vegetables to cedar plank, surrounding salmon. Sprinkle with remaining lemon juice.

Transfer plank to barbecue over the drip tray. Cook salmon for 8 minutes. Remove from barbecue. Turn salmon over, and return to barbecue. Cook for an additional 6 to 8 minutes, until internal temperature of salmon reaches 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove salmon from barbecue. Serve directly on plank or transfer to plates. Brush with melted butter, if desired. Garnish with lemon slices, and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.

∗ 1 tablespoon paprika
∗ 1 tablespoon coarse salt
∗ 2 teaspoons lemon pepper
∗ 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
∗ 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
∗ 1 teaspoon dried crumbled tarragon leaves
∗ 1 teaspoon dried crumbled basil leaves
Combine all ingredients and set aside.

∗ 3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
∗ 1/4 cup Jack Daniel’s whiskey
∗ 2 tablespoons peanut oil
∗ 2 pounds salmon fillets, skin on 1 large sealable storage bag

In a medium bowl, mix soy sauce, whiskey and oil. Place salmon in the sealable storage bag, pour the marinade into the bag, seal, and place in the refrigerator.

After 2 to 3 hours, turn the bag over, and return it to the refrigerator for another 2 to 3 hours.
Remove the salmon from the bag, drain and dispose of the marinade (do not reuse).

Place salmon on grill or barbecue, skin side down, and grill over medium-hot fire for 6 to 8 minutes per side, or until it is opaque throughout or is the doneness you desire.
Makes 4 servings.

Solociccia (Only Meat) is the name of Dario’s ristorante, and when he opened it, this was the dessert that he served. One of Dario’s chefs, Simonetta, makes this cake every day; in sharing this recipe, she said the last ingredient is “love for what you are doing.”
∗ Olive oil
∗ 1/4 cup ground almonds
∗ 5 eggs
∗ 2 oranges, finely chopped (pulp and peel)
∗ 4 cups flour
∗ 2 teaspoons baking powder
∗ 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in Vin Santo (an Italian dessert wine) to cover 2 hours or overnight (and slightly drained)
∗ 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Brush a 10- or 12-inch spring form pan with olive oil and dust with ground almonds.
Beat the eggs with 2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add orange peel and pulp and blend well. Slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil alternately with flour and baking powder, and mix until smooth. Fold in raisins.

Let rest for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. The oil is light, but tends to separate from the batter; mix well.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, level it, and top it with a little sugar, a little olive oil and pine nuts. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
Makes 12 servings.

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