Walking along the city streets in the summer, even above the stench of garbage on the sulfurous sidewalks of Manhattan, I can smell the waft of grilling. Most buildings do not allow for grilling on the 2- by 4-feet balconies that pop out from their sides, but Gotham's denizens have a devil-may-care attitude and insist on hosting barbecues on their less-than-sprawling terraces. Teeny hibachis and minuscule gas grills send out smoke signals and summer, compacted, lives on.
I, alas, don't have a balcony and have no way of throwing caution—and ashes and the smell of fat-dripping, juicy, charring steak—to the wind. I am relegated to my two-sizes-too-small kitchen and a grill pan.
As a hyper-sensitive smoke detector, I have duly noted that opening the door to the hallway when cooking will only set off the earsplitting alarm that alerts the entire building and local ladder of your crime and disrespect for authority. Hence, to satisfy my cravings for grilled food, I either go out or stick to items that will cook quickly, i.e. vegetables.
Eager to use the shapely and sweet zucchini and little round-bottomed Italian eggplant in a recipe that would blend with summer, I grilled them and added deep, dark, charred flavor that would give me at least a brief, if only imaginary, glimpse into what my family and friends who are blessed with backyards are enjoying.
Thinly sliced into rounds, the vegetables cook in about 5 minutes; easy-breezy. To add nutty crunch to rival their soft flesh, throw on some coarsely chopped pistachios and for brightness, fresh and fragrant cilantro. The highlight of this sandwich is a lemon zest-highlighted anchovy butter. The salty, briny, pungent taste of these tiny fillets brings an unexpected boldness to what would otherwise be a too-simple sandwich. Soft, grilled naan is the blanket around the filling, and, be forewarned, it's a bit messy, but in the spirit of the grill, shouldn't everything that comes off the grate and flame be a bit fun and fancy-free?
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 12 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and minced
- 1 teaspoon finely grated zest from 1 lemon
- 2 large pieces naan, cut in half crosswise
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 small zucchini (about 12 ounces), trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- 2 small Italian eggplants (about 8 ounces), trimmed and sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
In small bowl, combine butter, anchovies, and lemon zest. Set aside. Heat grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush both sides of each piece of naan with 1 tablespoon oil. Grill naan, in two batches, until warmed and slightly charred, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and cover with clean kitchen towel.
Toss zucchini and eggplant in large bowl with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and Aleppo pepper. Arrange eggplant in single layer in grill pan and cook over medium-high heat until tender and charred, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to bowl. Repeat procedure with zucchini.
Spread one side of each piece of naan with 1/4 of anchovy butter. Divide mixture of zucchini and eggplant evenly among naan and sprinkle with pistachios and cilantro.
Fold naan over filling and serve warm.
grill pan, pastry brush, kitchen towel