Ok, I’m going to come out and say it. There’s a certain point every summer at which I start to get a little annoyed by the sheer bounteousness of summer produce. I mean, I love it, I really do, but it’s just so freaking beautiful and abundant. It’s kind of like that person you know who is really smart and talented and beautiful and then they’re nice on top of it, and and eventually you’re like, “come on! Can’t you at least be neurotic?!” I get a little bit that way about summer vegetables. (Please tell me this doesn’t make me a horrible person, though, clearly, I have issues.)
We put summer produce on sun-soaked a pedestal, cooing over it and the way it needs only a little sprinkling of salt, maybe a drizzle of good olive oil. We rhapsodize perfect garden tomatoes or fresh sweet corn like we do our first love. And it’s all true, and completely deserved. Fresh summer produce is miraculous. It really would be a shame to do much more than serve it in a minimalist state, an ode to the garden. And the essays that have been written on the subject, well, I have nothing to add to them that hasn’t been said.
But, sometimes I get a little sick of how it presents absolutely no challenge at all. For a perennial over thinker who finds a bit of solace in occasionally (ahem, or frequently) over thinking dinner, I get every so slightly unnerved by the absolute lack of thought or foresight needed to throw together a perfect summer supper. It is variations on a theme here nearly every day. Bushels of vegetables with a bit of sea salt and olive oil either raw or grilled. Sometimes they’re a salad, sometimes mixed with pasta or piled on a slice of toast. Sometimes they’re accompanied by a bit of grilled meat or fish, again with but olive oil and salt for seasoning.
In a way it’s like the Pachelbel’s Canon of food. What’s there is fundamentally brilliant, moving, gorgeous. But you start to forget that fact and find yourself feeling sick of it because it is so aggressively overplayed. Of course, if you’re hanging out in sophisticated circles should you try to point out that Pachelbel’s Canon is actually a beautiful piece of music you’ll probably be laughed at, while if you admit that you’ve been unhinged by the unbearably uncomplicated perfectness of the perfect tomatoes and eggplants and peppers you’ve consumed this summer, you’ll be driven out as a heretic.
Then again, here I am grousing and grumbling, but just you wait, my annoyance lasts only until I’m at the table. Then one bite and, ohhhh. There I am exalting produce with the best of them.
The season is so short, after all, perhaps I can, I should, I do relish the cadences and motifs one finds in a series of variations on a theme.
Here is one of them: the aforementioned glorious produce licked by flames to create a wonderful charred flavor. Smokey chorizo and grilled flatbread are perfect compliments to the sweet, fleshy grilled vegetables. Inspired by the Spanish notes in the flavor of the chorizo, I decided to make a yogurt-sauce nod to a saffron aioli by lacing yogurt with saffron, smoked paprika, lots of garlic and a squeeze of lemon. It ties everything together and makes it taste different, without overpowering those vegetables, which, as we know, need no adornment. (Need, no, but now and then perhaps they want a little!)
Grilled Chorizo and Flatbread with Charred Vegetables (serves about 6)
- 1 cup thick Greek-style yogurt
- 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
- a generous pinch each of crumbled saffron threads and smoked paprika (if you have no saffron, you can use all paprika)
- 6 fresh, uncooked chorizo sausages (Merguez sausages would be really good too)
- 2 bell peppers, any color, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4 inch thick circles or planks
- 1 large sweet onion, cut into thick rings
- 1-2 summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch thick planks
- 1 recipe of pizza dough (my favorite it this one, or (shhh) you can even buy some premade pizza dough at the grocery store) risen and ready to go
- plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper
- In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, saffron and smoked paprika. Add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to use (the saffron and paprika flavors will mellow and blend in more nicely with the others if you give it a little time).
- Light up your grill and get it preheating. In a large baking tray (you’ll probably actually need a couple), drizzle a good dousing of olive oil all over the vegetables and sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper. I used a mix of eggplant, peppers, and squash, but really you can use what you have. I basically can’t think of a grilled vegetable that wouldn’t taste good with everything else going on here.
- On a lightly floured surface, divide your dough into two or three pieces and roll each out into a 1/4 inch thick circle (or a shape somewhat akin to a circle, there’s no need to be perfect). Brush both sides of each rolled piece of dough lightly with olive oil. If you prefer, you can also divide it into 6 pieces and make an individual sized flatbread for each person.
- Place the chorizo and the vegetable pieces on your grill (you may need to do the vegetables in two rounds), and grill them over moderately high heat, turning frequently, until they are nicely charred on the outside and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Take them off the grill and keep them warm.
- Transfer the lightly oiled dough rounds to the grill. Cook them until they are bubbling and have grill marks on the bottom and release easily from the grill, about 3 minutes. Use tongs to flip them and cook them 1-2 minutes on the second side, until cooked through. Remove from the grill and cut the bread into large wedges.
- Serve the chorizo, vegetables, and bread together accompanied by the yogurt sauce. You can attempt to make sort of sandwiches, or you can just pile everything on your plate and dig in, which I prefer.