I can’t think of a better example of the convergence of taste and health than grilled vegetables. Of course, vegetables are good for you, but sometimes making them delicious translates into erasing their nutritional benefits and inherent flavor — as in breading and frying, or smothering in cheese sauce.
Grilling, on the other hand, makes vegetables luscious and compelling, concentrating their flavor and giving them a stunning char without piling on calories and saturated fat.
What’s more, grilled vegetables are incredibly versatile, and they keep so well in the refrigerator that they can be a healthful jumping-off point for any number of fantastic dishes. Throughout the summer and easily through October, I always grill up a batch to have on hand for the week to chop and toss into green salads or egg scrambles, layer onto sandwiches and pizzas, etc.
But when I am entertaining, I step up the presentation and compose these gorgeous grilled vegetable stacks. They present so beautifully and pair well with just about anything else you might grill up or serve as part of an extended salad spread. To make them, I use the vegetables that compose a classic ratatouille — zucchini, eggplant, onion, peppers, tomatoes — in part because they are so harmonious tastewise and in part because they all can be cut into rounds that are easily layered and stacked.
The seasonings couldn’t be simpler: olive oil, salt and pepper before grilling and then a finishing hit of red wine vinegar and ribbons of fresh basil. The dish’s simple elegance and make-ahead friendliness make it ideal for easy entertaining, and the unbeatable vegetable-meets-grill flavor really shines through.
Grilled Vegetable Stacks
The vegetables can be grilled in advance and stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before stacking and serving. Servings: 4.
1 small eggplant (about 8 ounces), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 small red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rings
1 medium orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rings
3 medium firm ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded (optional) and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, stacked, then rolled tightly and cut crosswise into ribbons (chiffonade)
Prepare the grill for direct heat or preheat a gas grill to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; once the coals are ready, distribute them evenly in the cooking area. For a medium fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 to 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.
Brush all the sliced vegetables with oil on both sides, then season with the salt and pepper. Use a vegetable grilling basket or place them directly on the grill, in batches if needed. Close the lid and cook, turning them once or twice, until they have grill marks and are softened, about 10 minutes total for the eggplant; 7 or 8 minutes total for the zucchini, onion and bell pepper; and 6 minutes for the tomatoes. Allow the vegetables to cool slightly.
When ready to serve, drizzle the grilled vegetables with the vinegar. Arrange 3 or 4 slices each of zucchini and eggplant in a circle, overlapping slightly, on each plate. Top each with 2 slices of bell pepper, then 2 tomato slices and a few grilled onion rings.
Garnish with the basil ribbons.
Nutrition: per serving: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar