What is it about summer grilling outdoors that takes the ‘work’ out of cooking?
Preparing the same meal in the kitchen in the winter is more of a task, while sitting near the bbq, while items are getting pleasantly charred and cooked through is more of a pass-time! Add a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, and that pass-time is now an official outdoor activity.
Yes, meat is the obvious choice for grilling. But we all have come to discover that vegetables, fish, even fruit taste more luscious when placed over a flame. There are kebabs, chops, salmon fillets, even speducci (Italian lamb skewers) in our freezer, ready to make their appearance on the grill. Grilling shrimp is another favourite over here, as well as toulouse or merguez sausages.
Why not try some grilled dishes on a summer cheeseboard? I ALWAYS have cheese around! And there had to be a way to combine the two loves: grilling and cheese. Pan con Tomate would be a fresh way to get the best of both worlds.
The few times we’ve been able to visit Barcelona, this tapas dish is the one that probably makes me the most giddy! It is basically the Spanish version of bruschetta. Grilled halved olive-oil rubbed ciabatta is then rubbed with garlic and the open side of a halved tomato. As you rub the tomato meat over the hot crunchy bread, bits of tomato and the juice get lodged into the nooks and crannies. Sprinkled with fresh salt and pepper, this alone makes a fabulous snack, but the topping in Spain is their fresh, superb Iberico ham (pigs that have enjoyed a diet solely of acorns are the source for this amazing cured meat). It leaves prosciutto in the dust for flavour, tenderness and colour. It is such a treat to get here in Canada (VERY expensive) that I rarely have it on hand.
Why not add slices of cheese onto tomato rubbed pieces of grilled ciabatta instead? So many cheeses would work in this setting. I love the idea of an aged cheddar, or a creamy brie or double crème white, or even a rich blue cheese. Thankfully Castello Cheese has all three. And so did my cheese drawer! Out came the Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar, the Double Crème White, and the Traditional Blue Cheese. The key here is to make sure the cheese you are using has sat out of the fridge for a good 30 minutes. This is really optimum for most cheeses anyway- their flavours really come to the fore once the cheese has warmed up to room temperature. I took the ciabatta and sliced them into individual slices that could be nibbled on, and popped some cheese on each slice. The residual warmth went through the cheese slices and combined with the garlic and tomato flavours. I sprinkled some more cracked pepper over them all. It was like having an array of fancy mini grilled cheese sammies on the platter!
So, the cheeses were covered, what else could I grill? I remembered that there was still some amazingly tender venison backstrap in the freezer. This cut of meat truly loves a grill. Like a good tenderloin, this cut of venison is lean, tender, and juicy, despite the lack of visible marbling. It doesn’t need to stay long over the heat. I feel that getting it to medium-done is the MOST that backstrap should be cooked. I personally love it rare. Jim is a medium guy. So we compromise on medium rare for shared cuts of meat. This is the most simple ‘recipe’ ever: pat the meat dry, and coat well with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Once the grill has heated up to 450F, I quickly brush the grill rack with some olive oil and add the meat. Turn every 4-5 minutes, once good sear marks have set in, and cook all sides. The time it will take of course, will depend on the thickness of the meat, and how well done you like it. Once it has rested (to let the juices return to the centre of the meat) it can be sliced thinly and added to the platter you are creating. It works well on grilled toast or baguette slices, with horseradish, or a savoury blueberry syrup, or even a cherry compote. We had some wine jelly left from a previous cheeseboard, so I decided to serve it with the venison.
To go alongside the venison, I decided to take some shrimp and chorizo and grill up some super easy finger food. Truly, it is only a matter of skewering the tail of the shrimp (peeled and deveined, of course) and adding a slice of smoked chorizo sausage before skewering the fleshy part of the shrimp, to create a shrimp ‘hug’ of sorts. If you have metal skewers, great. If not, then make sure you soak your wood skewers for at least 2 hours first. A quick drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper, and these skewers are ready for the grill. These take no time on the grill. Cook each side till the meat is opaque but not overcooked. Depending on the heat setting (I go for 400F), and the shrimp, 3 minutes per side may be enough. The chorizo will release some fat and juices which will also flavour the shrimp wonderfully. Once removed from the heat, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, just slide them off the metal skewers and slide in a decorative bamboo serving skewer through the holes left behind. It happens so easily, as the shrimp and chorizo have created a bond that will stay intact as you go through this process.
Along with the above cheeses, I also added Castello Smoked Gorgonzola to the cheeseboard. It has a wonderful, deep flavour that works perfectly with the grilled meat and shrimp skewers. I added some fresh summer fruit and wine jelly, and another cheeseboard was done. It was savoured, and soon became history. But the opportunity for another cheeseboard is just around the corner. And you know I will always grab an opportunity to throw a cheeseboard together, whether it’s just for the two of us, or for a whole houseful of hungry friends! Hope you are enjoying these dog days of summer!
This post has been sponsored by Castello Cheese.
Pan con Tomate with Castello Cheeses
Olive oil rubbed ciabatta slices are grilled and then rubbed with garlic and fresh tomato. While still warm, cheeses are added, and the result is mini Spanish-inspired grilled cheese slices! Perfect as a snack or appetizer.
- 1 long ciabatta baguette
- olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves sliced in half
- 2 ripe tomatoes
- kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
- assortment of cheeses I used Castello Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar, Double Créme White, and Traditional Blue Cheese sliced, and at room temperature
Prepare your grill to 400F (alternatively you can use the broiler, or even a grill pan on the stove)
Slice the ciabatta baguette in half, and then slice each side in half lengthwise. If necessary you can slice into fourths first, to make it easier to handle as you slice lengthwise.
Drizzle olive oil and spread evenly over each cut slice.
Place the olive oil rubbed cut sides of each slice directly onto the grill. Grill until the bread has become crusty and golden brown. Check to ensure it isn't burning. Turn over and get the other side warmed through as well.
As soon as they come off the grill, rub the open sides of the garlic over the crunchy browned insides of the bread. Repeat with each slice.
Slice the tomatoes in half. Rub the open side of a tomato over the entire insides of the bread, squeezing gently as you do so, to release the juices and some of the flesh into the nooks and crannies.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Slice each length of bread into bite sized pieces (about 1 1/2 inches wide)
Onto each ciabatta slice, place a piece of cheese. The residual warmth from the bread will warm through the cheese to help it meld into the tomato rubbed surface in the best way!