(Francesca Olsen / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

There is no better way to add intense, robust flavor to something than to smoke it. The smokiness amplifies the natural loveliness of anything, be it a slab of salmon or a bulb of garlic or a foil packet of unadorned vegetables.

If you don't have a smoker, grilling does basically the same thing in a different (and less nuanced) way. A charcoal grill, especially, gives that beautiful blackened taste you just can't get in the oven (if you are a propane griller, my apologies).

As summer winds down and the evening air gets colder, we tend to fall into a grill-rut -- I've made grilled squash I don't know how many times. And while food fresh off the grill is never a bad thing, monotony can be. So while you still have the time, why not try some hybrid grill recipes?

In the past couple of weeks I have been experimenting with turning one grilled ingredient into a recipe that carries that beautiful summery smokiness to an entirely different place. I have grilled marinated zucchini chunks on skewers, then turned them into the best hummus I've ever tasted; grilled nectarines became a smoothie like nothing I've ever encountered; simple crostini were elevated by charcoal smoke, capping off a hummus-and-cheese plate perfectly.

I focused on appetizers here because so much about grilling revolves around main-course dishes, big slabs of meat, corn on the cob, etc. -- and transferring that smoke to a smaller stage makes a big impact (my father-in-law did not believe the hummus was so simple and could not get over it. I'll be making it next time he comes over).

Experiment while you still can -- it's a little more effort to bring what comes off the grill back into the kitchen, but the payoff is incredible. And you can tell your guests it took you a really long time, if you'd like.

GRILLED ZUCCHINI HUMMUS

Appetizer plate; serves 4-5

Zucchini, cut into 8-10 chunks about 2-inch-by-2-inch, stuck on skewers

1/2 tsp each Cumin, salt, pepper

1-2 tbsp. oil

2-3 cloves garlic, can be roasted or not

Fresh herbs (chopped, optional): Basil, oregano, thyme, summer savory

1 can chickpeas or cannellini beans

1-2 tsp lemon juice

Mix spices and herbs together in freezer bag. Toss in zucchini chunks, making sure all are covered in spice and herb mix. Marinate one hour or more.

Heat grill to medium-high; grill zucchini until it's shriveled and brown. Keep it out of direct flame.

Bring zucchini inside.

Crispy cheese crostinis, grilled zucchini hummus and some tomatoes and parmesan cheese make a simple, but impressive appetizer. The smoky taste from the
Crispy cheese crostinis, grilled zucchini hummus and some tomatoes and parmesan cheese make a simple, but impressive appetizer. The smoky taste from the grill is the secret weapon.
In a food processor, combine zucchini, beans and lemon juice. Mix until it's got the consistency of hummus. Add a little more olive oil if it's too dry.

GRILLED NECTARINE SMOOTHIE

Serves 2

Two nectarines, cored and split into two pieces

Honey

2 cups Silk coconut milk or almond milk

4-6 ice cubes

Brush nectarines with light coat of honey; grill just until each side has marks, not too much.

In blender, add nectarine halves (take the skin off if you want; heat from grill will help with that), coconut milk and ice. Blend and enjoy.

CRISPY CHEESE
CROSTINI

Serves 4-5

1 baguette

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cracked black pepper

Olive oil for brushing

Cut bread into 20-30 slices, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush slices with thin coating of olive oil.

Heat grill to medium-high. Place bread slices, flat side down, on the grill, away from flame.

Let them sit 2-4 minutes, or until they have grill marks. Remove from grill.

Press a fingerful of cheese down on the grilled sides, then bring back to the grill; grill the non-cheesed sides 2-4 minutes or until grill marks appear; covering the grill will make the cheese melt faster. Serve with roasted zucchini hummus.

To reach Francesca Olsen:
folsen@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6232
On Twitter: @FrancescaShanks