In my previous column, I sang the praises of getting a jump on summertime’s outdoor grilling with an electric countertop hinged grill — also called a contact grill because its ridged cooking plates contact with both sides of the food at once — or with a similar electric panini maker. The recipe I shared last week took care of a meal’s first course with eggplant-Parmesan stacks you could also serve as a vegetarian entree. This week, I’d like to offer a main dish versatile enough to serve as a starter.
Whether I’m grilling indoors or outside, I love that kind of flexibility. After all, grilling is a casual activity. Few people I know would want to sit down to a grilled meal served formally in three or more courses. We prefer grilled foods we can pick up with our hands and nibble on.
That’s one reason kebabs are so popular. Once their skewers have cooled a bit to the touch, you can pick them up if you like and slide the bite-sized pieces right into your mouth — though it’s also perfectly OK to use a fork to push the food off the skewers onto your plate for slightly more dignified eating!
Kebabs work perfectly on a contact grill, provided you observe a few key tips. First, use pieces of food of uniform size and shape so that the two heated plates come into full contact on both sides. The extra-jumbo shrimp I call for here work well for that reason, as long as you line them up neatly on the skewers as I describe in the recipe. Don’t be tempted to intersperse the shrimp with chunks of vegetable, which could keep the ridged plates from touching the seafood.
The other important consideration is the skewers themselves. Don’t use ones that are longer than the cooking surface’s longest dimension, or metal ones with bulky handles that could keep the grill from closing completely. Simple skewers are best, whether metal or widely available disposable bamboo or wooden ones.
Prepped this way, shrimp cook with amazing speed on a preheated contact grill — just 2 to 3 minutes. For extra flavor, I marinate them for a couple of hours beforehand. I’ll also make a simple pesto sauce to serve alongside.
That’s all it takes for a spectacular main dish grilled indoors. But what’s for dessert, you might ask? Wipe the grill clean and use it to cook sliced fresh pineapple brushed with melted butter and sprinkled lightly with sugar, served with grilled buttered pound-cake slices. Or make dessert panini, sandwiching your favorite chocolate-nut spread and jam or sliced bananas between thin pound-cake slices.
You’ll feel so grill-happy, you might not even notice that it’s not yet grilling weather outside!
SHRIMP KEBABS WITH ALMOND PESTO
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 to 16 as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre
32 large peeled and deveined raw shrimp, about 1 pound total weight
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled, brought to a boil in a small saucepan of cold water, drained, rinsed and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 1/3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
4 teaspoons finely ground almonds
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled, brought to a boil in a small saucepan of cold water, drained, rinsed and finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus extra as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper, plus extra as needed
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus extra as needed
Choose 8 or 16 bamboo or wooden skewers of a length that will fit comfortably on a hinged indoor countertop electric grill or panini maker. Put the skewers in a dish large enough to hold them flat. Cover with fresh cold water, and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the skewers thoroughly.
Thread the shrimp on the skewers, putting 2 or 4 shrimp on each skewer, depending on the skewers’ length, and passing the tip of the skewer through the tail and head end of each shrimp to straighten it out. Once all the shrimp have been skewered, arrange the skewers evenly on a large platter or in a baking pan.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and garlic. Pour the mixture over the skewered shrimp, turning the skewers to coat the shrimp evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.
A short while before cooking the shrimp kebabs, prepare the Almond Pesto. Put the parsley, basil, garlic, almonds and a little of the oil in a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Pulse the machine on and off several times to chop the mixture coarsely. Then, with the machine running, slowly drizzle the remaining oil through the feed tube and continue blending or processing until smooth. Pulse in the salt, pepper and lemon juice; then taste the sauce and, if necessary, add a little more salt, pepper or lemon juice.
Preheat a countertop contact grill or panini maker. Arrange as many shrimp kebabs as will fit comfortably on the lower cooking surface; then close the upper cooking surface over them. Grill until the shrimp are cooked through but still plump and juicy, 2 to 3 minutes total (or 2 to 3 minutes per side if using a one-sided grill). Take care not to overcook the shrimp. Transfer the grilled skewers to a heated serving platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and keep warm while grilling any remaining batches.
To serve as a main dish or an appetizer, spoon some of the sauce onto each serving plate, and arrange the skewers on top. To serve as an hors d’oeuvre, transfer the sauce to a bowl, and place it in the center of a large serving platter; then arrange the skewers around the bowl, ready for dipping.