Harvest barbecue

Don't pack up your grill just yet! Get fresh with your barbecue and serve up some tasty fall fare.

The end of summer doesn’t mean the reign of the barbecue has come to an end. Nor does it mean you need to keep repeating your standby summer recipes. It’s harvest season and fresh produce is at its peak. Whether you’re holding an autumn get-together or looking for some new cooking ideas, it’s time to get fresh with your grill.

Sides take centre stage

It may sound counter-intuitive for the barbecue, but meat doesn’t need to be the focus of meal planning. After all, the essence of fall is in the seasonal vegetables. When looking for recipe ideas, start with what’s in season:

Tomatoes: Grilled tomatoes can be stuffed, tossed in salads, served on garlic bread or used to make pasta sauce with a unique barbecue flavour.

Squash: Try grilled squash with recipes that include warm, buttery toppings. Spaghetti squash is a great alternative to pasta for a low-carb dish.

Peppers: Make your own roasted red peppers to use in recipes (click here for the simple technique), stuff them with your favourite ingredients or toss them in with other mixed vegetables.

Slice up some zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash, brush them with olive oil or an oil-based salad dressing and place them on the grill.

Corn on the cob will appeal to any age. An easy way to roast it is to soak the corn (husk and all) in water for about an hour. Place the corn on the grill and cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes. Turn it occasionally and don’t be alarmed if the husks brown or blacken (that’s supposed to happen). Handle with care when the cobs are done (and be warned the process could be messy).

For a little extra flavour, gently pull back the soaked husks and remove the silk. Then brush with salad dressing or seasoned butter. Pull the husks back over the corn and roast.

Beets: You can slice them and marinate them in herbs and vinegar, or brush with oil and grill whole.

Cauliflower: Roast it or mix it up with other vegetables for the grill. A little melted cheese never goes amiss.

Potatoes can be prepared any number of ways, depending on your preference. Cut them in half and cook alongside chicken for a quick meal, or slice, toss in oil and wrap in foil for home-fries. Grilled skins with sour cream and chives can start out the meal, and try the barbecue instead of boiling to make potato salad.

Pumpkin: Go beyond the pie and try soup or bisque with this featured ingredient. (For more ideas, see The Great Pumpkin.)

Alternatively, you can chop your favourite fall veggies into cubes, marinate and skewer. Or toss them in a bit of sea salt, pepper and oil and cook in foil. Grilled vegetables can also be featured in salads and other make-ahead vegetable dishes.

Dessert, anyone?

The barbecue doesn’t seem like the obvious place to cook up something sweet. Believe it or not, you can use it to prepare cookies and biscuits, and to add some pizzazz to pound cake or angel food cake by “toasting” them a little.

An easy and light dessert to try is grilled fruit. Apples and pears are ripening on the trees, and their firmness and skin help them retain their shape and texture when cooked. Slice them up, or simply cut them in half and shell out the core. Some guides recommend soaking the fruit in cold water with a teaspoon of lemon juice per cup to help it retain its colour and juiciness.

To avoid sticking, brush the fruit with melted butter, oil or a fruit-grilling sauce like O Chef’s Orange-Vanilla Butter Sauce. Cook the fruit over medium heat until softened and “marked” (i.e. you can see the grill marks). Serve warm with your choice of toppings including ice cream (or frozen yoghurt), caramel sauce, bourbon or rum sauce, fruit puree, whipped cream, chopped nuts and cinnamon. (See Grilling Fruit on About.com for more tips and advice.) Yes, you can even grill watermelon.

A quick tip: Make sure your grill is clean before you start. Turn up the heat to burn off the residue from any meat or vegetables and give the grates a good brushing.

Menu ideas

Appetizers: For a cool night, start with something warm like Grill-Roasted Apple and Pumpkin Bisque. A lighter and faster alternative is Garlic Bread with Ripe Tomatoes toasted right on the grill.

Vegetables: Try Marinated Mushroom and Veggie Kabobs, Acorn Squash with Spiced Pecan Butter or Asparagus with Sherry-Bacon Vinaigrette.

Side dishes: Grill-Roasted New Potatoes can be made up ahead of time so it won’t compete for time and space. For a variation on roasted corn on the cob, try Corn on the Cob with Basil-Parmesan Butter. A simple tossed salad with vinaigrette can round out the meal.

Meat: Try your favourite cuts with a homemade barbecue rub or marinade.

Dessert: Shop local and prepare a Pound Cake with Grilled Pears and Caramel-Rum Sauce (you can substitute in angel food cake for a lighter version) or Chocolate Brownie Cake.

Beverages: Look for wine and beer pairings in online recipes, and keep your eyes open for some speciality brews like pumpkin beer. Apple cider is always a hit, and teas and coffees made with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg compliment fall flavours.

If time and space are at a premium, you may want to balance make-ahead dishes or recipes that don’t use the barbecue with your grilling favourites. For example, a rotisserie cooked chicken might not leave room for a variety of vegetable dishes, but a quick-cooking fish steak will take up less room.

How to find recipes:

Barbecue recipes specifically designed for the fall can be hard to find — after all, summer usually gets all the attention. Here are some sources to get you started:

- Barbecue manufacturer Weber has recipes, cooking tips and techniques and a free grilling guide in the Recipes & Tips section of their website.

- That’s My Home has a selection of recipes for grilled vegetables and potatoes.

- About.com: Barbecues & Grilling has a comprehensive index of recipes with everything from sauces to dessert.

- AllRecipes.com and the Food Network have a variety of recipes online.

- Check out our food feature, Grub for the grill.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Scott Anderson

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