Grilled vegetables are a vital companion to lamb, steak and roast chicken. They are used in salads, or served hot, with or without tomato sauce. Close to the Spanish border in the delightful fishing port of Collioure, once home to Seurat and Matisse, I ate escalivada: aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, cut up, sprinkled with oil and grilled over a wood fire and ever since I have been trying to achieve the same smoky, succulent result.
For best results, the ideal is to cook this over wood, on a barbecue or in a fireplace in the kitchen or outside, using a sturdy iron grill. Alternatively, you could use a large, heavy ridged grill pan. This works really well, but will not impart the delicious aromas that come from the smoke of a wood fire.
You can grill all the usual things – aubergines, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and you can also grill endives (chicory), large mushrooms, radicchio and spring onions.
Prepare the vegetables by slicing them: fairly thinly in the case of courgettes, aubergines and radicchio; peppers, tomatoes and chicory can be cut in half; mushrooms and spring onions are left whole and everything is brushed with olive oil.
Grill them until they go limp, about 7–8 minutes on each side, turning them from time to time (unless you want very smart stripes, in which case turn them only once), and when they are cooked all the way through, remove them with tongs and sprinkle them with sea salt.
If you are grilling over a wood fire, light it fairly well in advance and boost it 15 minutes before you start the grilling with a bunch (a fagot) of vine prunings, or some kindling. Let it die down to strongly glowing embers. Heat the grill before you place the vegetables on it.
Once cooked, you can eat them as they are, or sprinkled with