It’s not every day that a local chef puts out a grilling book. And Michael Chiarello’s new “Live Fire” book is not just any cookbook.
The large-format hardback feels more like an ode to the primeval flame than a cookbook, with an unfussy look and feel that makes you want to throw it in your backpack and head off to Montana for a fishing trip. (see page 120 for Dinner at the Lake) or head off to the beach for a ribs-a-palooza (beef, pork and lamb, page 149).
The chef/owner of Bottega in Napa and Coqueta, a new Spanish restaurant in San Francisco, takes readers on a global trip through the embers, detailing six ways to cook with flame, from the grill and the hearth to the plancha, the fire pit, the hot box and the rotisserie.
Side trips are taken to explain “The Lore of the Night Before” ( also known as drinking and telling stories), and some of the cocktails that make outdoor cooking even more adventurous, including the Highwayman’s Mojito and the Smoked Tequila Margarita.
As usual, the recipes from the well-known Napa Valley chef offer a wide range of American-Italian fare, from Blue-Cheese-Stuffed Beef Burgers with Zin-Onion Marmalade to Grilled Ahi Tuna with Carrot Caponata and “Broken” Carrot Vinaigrette.
You may not want to invest in a Tuscan grill or a rotisserie, but Chiarello makes the plancha – a simple slab of iron that sit on a grill or open fire pit - sound like a worthy investment.
“My plancha sits on my grill most of the time,” he said. “ I use it for everything from steaks to grilling onions for burgers to making pancakes and French toast in the morning.”
If you don’t have a plancha, substitute your cast-iron frying pan for this recipe.
Grilled Mushrooms with Sausages, Onions and Peppers
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
8 links hot or sweet sausage, preferably Calabrese
1 pound mushrooms, stemmed and cut into ½ -inch julienne (the stems too)
Coarse sea salt, preferably gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 sweet onions, cut into ½ -inch-thick slices
3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into ½ -inch julienne
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
Turn a gas grill to high or ignite charcoal. When your gas grill is hot or the coals have turned gray, place the plancha or a big, cast-iron skillet on the grill rack and heat until smoking hot, at least 10 minutes. Pour in the olive oil.
Brown the sausages on the plancha or in the pan; remove them from the pan and set aside. Add more oil to the pan if needed. Add the mushrooms, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Let them cook without moving them for about 7 minutes. When they’ve caramelized, stir the mushrooms and add the onions and bell peppers and a little more salt and black pepper. Let them cook until all the vegetables are gorgeously caramelized. Sprinkle on the oregano and parsley, and put the sausages back on top of the vegetables on the plancha or in the pan. Serve when ready.