Grill in the Catalan Way with Escalivada!

Escalivada (Catalonia) (3) CROP The Catalonians have a long tradition of grilling especially starting in the spring when young leeks start popping out of the ground.  One stellar example of Catalan grilling is escalivada, a medley of grilled vegetables dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar.  Escalivar means “to cook in hot ashes.” Typically the vegetables in an escalivada are grilled, and the dish is served with grilled meats. Mountain shepherds were adept at packing their rucksacks with some cheese and wine, perhaps, and building a hardwood fire near a revetment of their sheep’s pasture where they could grill a medley of vegetables. Some writers call this a Catalan- style ratatouille but escalivada more closely resembles the Tunisian salata mishwiyya, to which it may be historically related. The excellence of this dish comes from absolutely fresh vegetables.  It can also, less frequently, be fried.  Remember it’s all very simple.
1 eggplant (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and sliced 3/8-inch thick lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
1 large onion, cut in half
1 green bell pepper
8 ripe but firm plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded if desired, cut in half
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the vinaigrette sauce (whisked together)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire until hot white with ash or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes.

2. Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and lay on the grill and cook until it has attractive grid marks on both sides, about 20 minutes in all.  Set aside.

3. Place the onion and green bell pepper on the grill and cook until blistered black on all sides, about 30 minutes. Set the onion aside, peel and seed the bell pepper and set aside.

4. Cut the eggplant and onion up into smaller pieces and cut the bell pepper into eighths.  Place in a bowl with the tomatoes and toss.  Season with salt and pepper and mix gently.  Let cool at room temperature, then serve with the vinaigrette poured over.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

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