The keys to good Italian grilling are the use of olive oil and fresh herbs. The fresh herbs play a large role because they help bring out the full flavor of the dish. The Italian grill also uses a lot of skewered meatsl, which is great for parties. So, if you’re looking for something a little different when planning your next cookout, you might want to try it Italian-style. Spiedini, which means “skewers”—are one of the many ways Italians enjoy grilled food. Basically, spiedini are the equivalent of “shish kebab.” The skewers can be made of metal or wood—though, sometimes, simply rosemary sprigs are used. (If using wooden skewers, first soak them in cold water for about 30 minutes to prevent them from burning.)
The preparation for spiedini is simple: Small chunks of meat or fish are placed on skewers (each one an individual serving)—sometimes including vegetables—which are then cooked over a grill. In addition to being versatile—really any combination of meat, vegetable or fruit that can be cut and skewered may be used—spiedini are a great time saver. They may be served as an appetizer, accompaniment (contorno), entrée, or dessert. In fact, using the suggestions here, you can prepare an entire meal outside on the grill—from start to finish—without the need for any indoor cooking at all.
As appetizers, vegetables work well. First, brush the grill with vegetable oil and then grill long slices of eggplant and/or zucchini—cut the vegetables on a diagonal or longitudinally so the slices will be long enough not to fall through the grill grate.. Before serving, drizzle the grilled vegetables with olive oil and garnish with herbs, such as parsley and thyme, and chopped (or roasted) garlic.
If you like anchovies, another great antipasto idea is “Spiedini di alici pomodoro e olive”—grilled fresh anchovies (which are then rolled) and sliced zucchini, with raw tomato wedges and pitted black olives. These spiedini can be served on a bed of lettuce-heart leaves, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with basil.
As a main course, meat spiedini are the most popular in Italy. For these, it’s important to choose tender cuts of meat—such as chicken breast, lamb, pork, and sausages—evenly cut into approximately one-inch pieces. If you want to use beef, select tender cuts, but they don’t have to be particularly lean. To make Spiedini misti di carne (mixed meats), alternate onions, peppers slices, and cubes of various meats, and then grill. A leaf of fresh sage and/or a bay leaf between the pieces of meat will add flavor. To enhance the taste, try marinating the meat—already cut and ready to be skewered—for a few hours prior to grilling, mixing now and then. To make the marinade, simply coat the pieces of meat with olive oil (not too much), and add rosemary leaves (finely chopped), sage, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
Fish spiedini (spiedini di mare) are also popular in Italy. For these, the most commonly used seafood are shrimp, scallops, tuna, swordfish, cuttlefish or calamari. The fish is usually lightly marinated or else brushed before grilling with olive oil, herbs (parsley or thyme), sometimes garlic, and salt and pepper. Spiedini di mare are usually served with lemon and a fresh green salad.
Grilled fruit can provide a sweet, healthy finale to your outdoor feast. The grilling process caramelizes the fruits’ natural sugars and concentrates the flavors. Peaches, pears, and apples—simply cut in half and pitted—are great for grilling. Adding just a little lemon juice will preserve the fruit’s color and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon will enhance the natural flavors. Be sure to brush the grill with vegetable oil so the fruit doesn’t stick. You can then serve the fruit alone or with scoop of ice cream. It’s delicious with yogurt too. Or, try a fresh fruit spiedini using cubes of fresh pecorino and raw pears; or you can serve spiedini di frutta (mixed fresh fruits)—using slices of uncooked peaches, apples, pears, and whole strawberries. Squeeze lemon juice over the fruit to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.
The following is a list of essential ingredients for the Italian Grill pantry:
- Anchovies (cured): Salted anchovies are a key ingredient in Italian grilling, any recipe that calls for them.
- Bread Crumbs: A strange ingredient for the grill, but a lot of meats have a light coating of breadcrumbs..
- Bread Cubes: The bread cubes are used in a lot of skewered recipes in Italy, generally they are cut up in 1-inch cubes.
- Caciocavallo: A cheese made from cow’s milk and is a firm cheese. The cheese is usually in the shape of a spindle and can be found in Italian stores or very well stocked grocery stores. If you are unable to find it, you may substitute with provolone cheese
- Lemons: The juice of lemons are used a lot in grilling, and only fresh lemon juice should be used.
- Pancetta: An Italian-style that is cured, but not smoked like American bacon.
- Flat-leaf parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Fennel or Sage are the most common types of herbs used.
- Pecorino: A hard cheese made in Italy that is made from sheep’s milk. This cheese can be found at most grocery stores,
- Prosciutto: Domestic prosciutto is good for cooking with, but imported from Italy is far superior.
- Olive Oil: Use inexpensive extra-virgin olive oil, unless a recipe calls for something else.
Grilled Summer Squash with Pesto and Balsamic Syrup
1-1/2 lb. assorted summer squash, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick ovals
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Prepare a high gas or charcoal grill fire. In a colander, toss the squash with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes; transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, put the the basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a food processor and purée until smooth.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, boil the balsamic vinegar until syrupy and reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 8 to 10 minutes.
Toss the squash with the remaining 2 tablespoons. extra-virgin olive oil and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until golden and tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Arrange on a platter, dot with the pesto, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and the balsamic syrup to taste. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.
Grilled Bread Salad With Basil and Cherry Tomatoes
1 medium loaf (about 1/2 pound) rustic Italian bread (like ciabatta), cut lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, halved lengthwise
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
12 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
8 oz . bocconcini (small fresh mozzarella balls), halved or substitute a large fresh mozzarella cut into 1-inch pieces.
Prepare a medium-high fire on a gas or charcoal grill. Clean and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Using a pastry brush, dab both sides of the bread slices with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grill the bread until it browns and gets good grill marks, about 2 minutes. Grill the other side until browned, about 2 minutes, and transfer to a large cutting board to cool. Rub the cut sides of the garlic over the bread and discard the garlic. Put the cherry tomatoes and scallions in a large serving bowl with the basil. Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces and add to the bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk the remaining oil with the red-wine vinegar, pour over the bread mixture, and toss well. Let the salad sit for up to 2 hours before serving. Just before serving, fold in the bocconcini and season with salt to taste.
Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1. lb.)
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 large basil leaves
1/4 lb. Italian fontina cheese, thinly sliced
4 thin slices prosciutto (preferably imported)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Prepare a medium charcoal fire or light a gas grill to medium high.
Meanwhile, prepare the chicken breasts. Cut through each one horizontally almost all the way through and open it like a book. Sprinkle the chicken all over with 1/2 teaspoon each garlic salt and pepper. Layer the basil leaves and fontina evenly on half of each breast and then fold it closed. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each breast to hold it closed and then brush lightly on both sides with the olive oil.
Reduce the heat on the gas grill to medium. Grill the chicken breasts, covered, until they are well marked, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook, turning every few minutes, until the chicken is just firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the breast registers 165°F, 10 to 12 minutes more. Let cool for a couple of minutes and then serve.
Grilled Rosemary-Salmon Skewers
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Red Onion, cut into 1 inch squares and/or cherry tomatoes
1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skinned or tuna, cut into 1-inch cubes
Preheat grill to medium-high. Combine rosemary, oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add salmon; toss to coat. Alternating the salmon and tomatoes/red onion squares, divide them among eight 12-inch skewers. Oil the grill rack. Grill the skewers, carefully turning once, until the salmon is cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total.
Grilled Sicilian-style Sirloin Steak
In this recipe the steaks are marinated for about 12 hours before breading and grilling.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, and more for drizzling
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 sirloin steaks (about 3 3/4 pounds total)
- 1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- Salt to taste
1. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of the olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, basil, and pepper to taste in a 9 x 12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan. Dip both sides of the steaks in this mixture and then leave to marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 12 hours, turning several times. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.
2. Remove the steaks from the marinade and discard the marinade.
Spread the bread crumbs on a large plate and mix in the cheese and oregano. Salt the steaks to taste and dredge in the bread crumbs, patting the steaks to coat them thoroughly.
Place the steaks on the grill and cook, turning only once, to desired doneness, 12 to 15 minutes in all for rare.
Grilled Skewered Meatballs
This Sicilian recipe is an example of cucina arabo-sicula, Sicilian cuisine influenced by the medieval Arab era.
The Arab influence is evident in the molding of the ground meat around the skewer.
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
- 1/4 egg substitute
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- About 1/2 loaf French or Italian bread, cut into eighteen 1-inch cubes or you can substitute vegetables, such as sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.
- Twelve 8- to 10-inch wooden skewers
- Extra-virgin olive oil for basting or drizzling
Serve with the Grilled Pepper Recipe, below.
1. In a medium-size bowl, mix the ground beef, egg substitute, pecorino, bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Form the meat with wet hands to prevent sticking into 18 walnut-sized balls. Leave the meat to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on medium.
3. Double skewer all the ingredients: place a meatball on a cutting board and skewer the meat balls alternately with the bread cubes, keeping the 2 skewers parallel to each other about 1/2 inch apart.
4. Place the skewers on the grill and cook, turning occasionally and basting with olive oil, until the meat and bread are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Grilled Red, Yellow and Green Peppers
Grilling bell peppers of different colors is common in Sicily and Sardinia and makes a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don’t have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 green bell peppers
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.
2. Place the peppers on the grill and cook, turning, until they have blackened on all sides. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove the core and seeds. Cut into strips and arrange attractively on a platter.
3. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, basil, and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the peppers at the last moment and serve.
Grilled Fruit Skewers
Spiedini alla frutta
- 2 golden delicious or gala apples, cored and cut into 8 wedges
- 2 bananas, peeled and cut crosswise into 8 pieces
- 2 ripe but fairly firm peaches, pitted and cut into 8 wedges
- ⅓ ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ lemon
- 24 fresh mint leaves
Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas).
Arrange apple, banana, peach and pineapple on a platter. Squeeze lemon over apple and banana. Alternately thread fruit and mint leaves onto 8 skewers.
Sprinkle fruit with sugar. Let stand until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
Lightly brush grill rack with oil. Grill fruit, turning once, until lightly browned and softened, about 5 minutes.
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