Virginia Willis Blog

4G Summer: Glorious, Gardening, Grilling, & Garlic + Three Condiment Recipes

Life is Good

This summer has been glorious. Life is good, love is good, work is good. I am happy.

The past weeks have been filled with lots of gardening and grilling. I absolutely love to dig in the dirt. It’s so therapeutic. I can’t tend a houseplant to save my life, but vegetables? Love. It is so amazingly satisfying to watch them grow — and then eat them!

I am a simple creature, I really am. I insist. Feed me, love me, and I am good to go. Or grow, as the case seems to be.

Decompression from working and writing is spent in the garden. At the end of each day we go to the garden to weed and water. We enjoy drinks in the Adirondack chairs as the grill heats. It stays light quite late, it’s so beautiful outside, and grilling keeps the heat out of the kitchen. Last night we picked our first squash which I grilled seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and just a hint of oil. We also had salad from the garden – that I didn’t grill – but we enjoyed with a simple garlic dressing. It’s garlic harvest now and although we didn’t plant any in our garden, we’ve been buying fresh, sticky, hot delicious garlic at the Farmer’s Market. We’ve been putting it in everything.

Gardening, Grilling, and Garlic. That’s pretty much my summer in a nutshell.

I told you I was a simple creature.

Simple Food

Simple food is best to me. “Let the goodness of the ingredients shine” is my philosophy, especially in summer when the produce is fresh and bright. My friends and colleagues the BBQ Queens, Karen Adler and Judith Fertig have a tasty new cookbook that is spot on perfect for this summer. The Gardener and the Grill brilliantly combines the bounty of the garden with the sizzle of the grill. It’s packed with recipes for honest, good food. The photography is mouth-watering and it will inspire you to do more than the typical hot dogs and hamburgers on your grill this holiday weekend.

The recipes emphasize seasonality, sustainability, and recognizes that grilling from the garden has two rewards: growing your own food AND making it taste good – which I wholeheartedly endorse! Their book has new twists on grilled produce and great vegetable sides. And, there’s far more. Karen and Judith include an explanatory pantry chapter with recipes for homemade salts, seasonings, and dressing to enhance your grilling experience. Then, they break out the grill for appetizers; sandwiches, flatbread, and pizza; soups and salads; meat, poultry, and fish; and a sweet finish with fruits and desserts. Even if you aren’t able to grow your own,you will find plenty of recipes to use with vegetables from your local farm stand.

One recipe that caught my eye of course, involved garlic. I adore Romesco Sauce. So, in honor of my 4G glorious summer I want to share some garlicky goodness condiment recipes with you – Bagna Cauda and Aioli. With the 3 of these simple condiment recipes you can have a glorious picnic, too!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Click here to see my video for the Washington Post on How to Pack a Perfect Picnic!

Flame-Licked Fingerlings with Romesco Sauce
Makes 8 servings

Flame-licked? More like finger-licking with this full-flavored Romesco Sauce! Try it with grilled zucchini or even grilled meats such as steak or chicken. Pretty much tastes good on anything.

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
2 roasted red bell peppers or jarred roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 slice white bread (crust removed), toasted and crumbled
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds fingerling potatoes
Pure olive oil, for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a food processor, grind the almonds. Add roasted peppers, garlic, bread, parsley and hot pepper flakes. Blend until it becomes a paste. Add the vinegar and pulse to blend. With the motor running, gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream until the mixture thickens like mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. (Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

Meanwhile, prepare a hot fire in your grill. Drizzle the fingerling potatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the fingerlings in a perforated grill basket or an aluminum pan with holes in it. Place over the hot fire and close the grill lid. After about 3 or 4 minutes, open the grill and toss the potatoes. Clove the lid again and repeat the tossing in about another 3 or 4 minutes. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve the grilled fingerlings on a platter with a bowl of the Romesco sauce set in the middle for dipping.

Adapted from THE GARDENER & THE GRILL © 2012 by Karen Adler & Judith Fertig, Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.

Lisa’s Bagna Cauda
Makes about 3/4 cup


Instead of a mayonnaise or sour cream based dip, try this recipe for an exquisite warm oil-based dipping sauce. It is a lot of oil, but it’s heart-healthy olive oil. Packed with flavor that pops, all you need is the quickest, lightest coating on the dipped vegetables.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets in oil
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh garden vegetables, for serving

Place the oil, anchovies, garlic, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until smooth. Transfer the mixture to small heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat 15 minutes, stirring, occasionally. (The sauce will separate.) Serve with fresh vegetables.

Virginia’s Aioli
Makes 1 cup


This is an indulgence, but oh-my-goodness it is some kind of good. It’s homemade garlic mayonnaise and is awesome on grilled bread or vegetables. This would take your burger bash to a whole new level.

2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with salt
1 cup oil such as canola, olive, or a combination, room temperature
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grilled bread, for serving

Whisk the egg yolks, mustard, white wine vinegar, and garlic together in a medium bowl until smooth and light. In a slow steady stream whisk the oil, a drop at a time, until the mixture starts to stiffen and thicken. As the mixture thickens you may add the oil, slightly faster. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Note: Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health or immune system is compromised should not consume raw eggs.

Potato Photo credit: Steve Legato
Bagna Cauda and Aioli: Virginia Willis

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One Response to “4G Summer: Glorious, Gardening, Grilling, & Garlic + Three Condiment Recipes”

  1. “Simple food is best to me.” I couldn’t agree more! In general, judging from comments blog readers, most people appreciate simple food. Fine, complicated dining is enjoyable, but that’s not the way folks cook in their kitchens on a Tuesday night. I never tire of simple food. Thank you for your sincere dedication to your Southern culinary heritage.

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