We always thought there was no better way to enjoy summer's tender peaches, juicy mangoes and sugary berries than straight from the market, with juices running down our chins.
Then we took them out of the fruit bowl and tossed them onto the fire.
"You start off with something cool, refreshing and crisp, but once exposed to the high heat of the grill, fruit transforms into something rich and complex, oozing with molten-hot candied sugars," says chef Greg Denton, who, along with his wife, Gabrielle Quiñònez Denton, owns Ox Restaurant, an Argentine-inspired, wood-fired grill in Portland, Oregon. "The natural sweetness deepens, and it plays well with the slight bitterness from the char on the grill."
If you've encountered grilled fruit before, chances are it was a dessert of the grilled-stone-fruit-with-ice-cream variety. Delicious, yes. But don't stop there. Grilled fruit works well in everything from drinks to dressings.
Orange you glad you put your fruit on the grill?
If given the choice, use a coal-fired grill instead of gas. "You'll get more flavor out of a charcoal grill than a gas one," Quiñònez Denton says. "And you can usually get a charcoal grill hotter as well. The high heat helps to prevent the flesh of the fruit from sticking to the grate. It also ensures you get beautiful grill marks—and the flavor they impart—without overcooking the inside of the fruit."
To try it at home, heat a grill to high, then clean it with a grill brush. When you're ready to go, oil the grates lightly, then add the fruit. Cook without fussing too much with the pieces. Flip with a metal spatula or tongs if desired. If fruit is too small to cook on the grates without falling through, use a grill pan or small cast iron pan. "Just make sure you close the grill if possible to infuse some of the smokiness into the fruit," Denton says.
Ready to get grilling? Try one of these dishes:
Grilled Stone Fruit Gazpacho
Grill sliced peaches, nectarines or plums over high heat until just barely warmed through, then puree in a blender with some cucumber, red bell pepper, onion, a dash of sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and ice. Serve immediately, garnished with toasted bread, crumbled feta and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Grilled Melons with Prosciutto and Mozzarella
"The moisture in melons means they benefit from a quick exposure to really high heat," Quiñònez Denton says. "It concentrates the sweetness on the surface but leaves the inside cool and uncooked." Peel and slice cantaloupe into inch-and-a-half-size pieces and season with a splash of olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Sear on a super-hot grill, removing the fruit before it becomes mushy. Drape the grilled cantaloupe with a slice of prosciutto and serve with a dollop of burrata.
Grilled Orange Old-Fashioned
Cut an orange into half-inch-size slices and transfer them to a hot grill. Cook on one side until very dark and smelling of burnt sugar. Leave the other side raw, so you can still taste the fresh, bright citrus oils. Muddle the slices into an Old Fashioned cocktail for a smoky, summer twist on the classic.
Grilled Berry BBQ Sauce
Berries work surprisingly well on the grill, because they pick up smoky flavor. Work fast, since they're delicate and start to break down quickly. Place the berries in a grill basket so they won't slip through the grates, and preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill for about six minutes, shaking the basket every two minutes to move the berries around. Afterward, purée them into a vinaigrette for a sweet-tart flavor, or—even better—blend the berries into a savory barbecue sauce and brush onto grilled meats.
Sweet and Salty Bananas or Mangoes
Tropical fruits get a nice rich and velvety texture after just a little time on the grill. Lay bananas atop a super-high grate until grill marks form, and watch them become meltingly sweet, pungent and candy-like. Finish with Maldon or other flaky sea salt if desired.