I am really trying to eke out the last moments of summer with one of my favorites, grilled vegetable pasta! Truth be told, our grill is in such a place that we use it in all seasons — although, not during heavy rains or blizzards — so this recipe is feasible at other times of the year, even if the tomatoes are not as good. It’s definitely worth making while juicy heirloom varieties are still available.
As much as I give ingredients and instructions below, this is one of those non-recipe recipes that have countless variations and adaptations. As written, it’s vegetarian, and can easily be vegan by omitting Parmesan cheese at the end. If you’re not eating vegan, you could also toss in cubes of fresh mozzarella.
What really makes this dish shine is all the tomato juices that fall into the mix by cutting the tomatoes directly over the bowl — very carefully of course. For vegetables, my favorite iteration uses zucchini and eggplant, which is what I’ve offered below. But you can also do all of one vegetable or the other, or even substitute in some yellow squash. There have been times I have scraped the gills off a large portobello mushroom cap and grilled that instead of or in addition to what’s listed here. Once in a while, I grill some asparagus spears or wedges of radicchio (cut into smaller pieces after grilling) to add to the mix. And as long as your bowl is big enough, you can double the recipe to make a full pound of pasta.
If your household likes a bit more protein, you can grill a couple sausages, pork or turkey, cut them into coins and add to the bowl. There are even vegan sausages that would work (but be sure to check instructions for cooking).
GRILLED VEGETABLE PASTA
Serves 2-3, can be doubled
2 medium zucchini
1 medium eggplant
1 teaspoon salt, divided, plus more as needed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1 red bell pepper
2 to 3 medium ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, plus more as needed
8 ounces pasta, preferably a shape, such as penne
4 to 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Grated Parmesan, if desired
Trim ends off the zucchini and eggplant, and cut off a very thin slice from both sides of each vegetable, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place one layer of slices on paper towel, salt lightly, place a piece of paper towel on top with another layer of slices, salt, and continue to make layers until done with a piece of paper towel on the top. You should have used up about half of the salt. Place a pan on top to weigh down the pile and let sit for at 30 minutes to absorb the moisture. Remove paper towels and drizzle or brush with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Heat the grill to high. Place the bell pepper whole onto the grill and cook, turning regularly, until blackened all over, about 2 to 3 minutes on each of 4 sides. Place in a paper bag, fold over the top of the bag, and let sit for at least 15 minutes. (Place bag in the sink or on a plate as juices will seep through the bag.) Meanwhile, cook the slices of the other vegetables, 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until tender with some char marks.
Cut cooked zucchini and eggplant into bite-size pieces and place in large bowl. Scrape charred skin off the bell pepper (it should come off easily now) and remove stem, ribs, and seeds. Cut into strips and add to bowl. Core tomatoes and carefully cut over the bowl into bite-sized pieces, about 1 inch, allowing all the juices to drip in with the vegetable pieces. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Meanwhile, start a pot of water for the pasta. Salt the water when it comes to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.
When the pasta is done, move the bowl with the vegetables right next to the pasta pot, and remove the pasta directly from the water into the bowl, using a spider or strainer. Mix the pasta and the vegetable mixture, adding a drizzle of olive oil if it seems too dry. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Plate the pasta, and garnish with basil and Parmesan.