Whether you're heading to a lake, a cabin or just to the backyard over the long Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer — and the official start of grilling season — is worthy of a celebration.
Grilling over the holiday weekend often involves burgers or hot dogs, and while those are solid options, surviving another Minnesota winter calls for something special. In this case, it's Grilled Butterflied Chicken With Red Chimichurri, along with a Grilled Asparagus, Lemon and Feta Panzanella. Both are simple but sophisticated, and meant to impress without stress.
Of course, every holiday deserves a dessert (at least it does in my house), and with this Chocolate Strawberry Pavlova, a mountain of crispy dark chocolate meringue, topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, we have a showy one. While it looks like a pastry chef has been laboring away in your kitchen, anyone can make this showstopper.
Not your daddy's barbecue chicken
When I was a kid, my dad thought of himself as a master of the grill. He would fire it up to the maximum heat before plopping chicken pieces, coated in sugary barbecue sauce, onto the hot grate. For the next 30 minutes, he would hover over the chicken, armed with tongs in one hand and a beer in the other, which he would use, in between sips, to douse the continual flames that flared up as the chicken juices dripped onto the hot coals.
While we all knew Dad's heart was in the right place, he missed more flames than he extinguished, and the chicken, due to the fire damage and the sweet sauce, would end up completely charred and bone dry.
Now that I'm master of my own grill, I've taken a different approach with Grilled Butterflied Chicken With Smoky Red Chimichurri. I use a whole, butterflied chicken. Butterflying a chicken is easy to do yourself, but feel free to ask your butcher to do it for you; most will oblige. Keeping the chicken whole helps avoid overcooking, which keeps the meat moist.
In addition, I use indirect heat, keeping the coals or the gas flames going on one side of the grill, leaving the other side free, where the chicken can cook without being constantly licked by fire. No more burned chicken, or chicken drowned in beer or any other adult beverage.
For this meal, I also stay away from saucing the chicken before it hits the grill, choosing instead to make a flavorful chimichurri to serve alongside the juicy chicken.
Chimichurri is an assertive Argentinian green sauce made with parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil and red vinegar. It goes great over grilled meat, especially beef, but I like to make a red version with grilled red peppers and smoked paprika. It's slightly milder than its green cousin, making it the perfect partner for grilled chicken.
And since we have the grill going, let's talk salad.
Most people think of crisp, leafy greens when they hear the word "salad," but all kinds of vegetables are delicious when grilled and dressed, which is what we've done in this Grilled Asparagus, Lemon and Feta Panzanella.
Panzanella salad is usually a mixture of dry cubes of hearty, rustic bread, tossed together with chunks of juicy tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, red onion and fresh herbs, all coated in a red wine vinaigrette. The bread soaks up the juices and the dressing, moistening and flavoring it without making it mushy in any way.
It's a late summer treat, meant to highlight the wonderfulness of a perfectly ripe tomato. Since ripe tomatoes are still a couple of months away, we turn to asparagus to bring our panzanella to life.
Since we're grilling, it makes perfect sense to grill the asparagus, along with thick slices of peasant bread, which will give our salad a slightly smoky flavor that pairs beautifully with the chicken. We also toss a couple of halved lemons on the grill, which tones down the acidity and brings out their natural sweetness, giving the dressing a nuanced, complex flavor.
Is dessert without chocolate really dessert?
Technically it is possible to make a dessert without chocolate, but for a chocoholic like me, it's hard to scratch that dessert-craving itch without it. Luckily, we don't have to. It's easy to make a light, summery dessert with a deep chocolate flavor. Need proof? Welcome to Chocolate Strawberry Pavlova.
Pavlova is an Australian or New Zealand dessert with an origin that's extremely controversial in parts of the Southern Hemisphere. But whoever invented this heavenly meringue-based dessert has my eternal gratitude.
It starts with a slightly chewy meringue that's crispy on the outside. Because of my affinity for chocolate, I add a bit of dark cocoa powder and a handful of finely chopped dark chocolate to my meringue, which is baked and then allowed to cool in the oven to give it a chance to dry out properly.
The meringue is then topped with a generous layer of whipped cream and a pile of fresh strawberries.
It's an eye-catching dessert that is amazingly simple to put together. The hardest part is waiting for the meringue to cool before you finally assemble the pavlova, just before serving.
You can make the meringue up to a day ahead, though, which leaves you more time on Memorial Day to relax and enjoy the beginning of a wonderful summer.
Grilled Butterflied Chicken With Smoky Red Chimichurri
Note: If you're lucky enough to have any chimichurri left, try it on grilled steak, grilled veggies or roasted potatoes. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 medium red bell pepper
• 1 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
• 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
• 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
• 2 tsp. smoked paprika
• 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
• 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lb.)
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking over medium-high heat. (For gas grills, light the burners on only one side of the grill. For charcoal grills, place the coals on one side of the grill.)
Place the red bell pepper over direct heat. Cook, turning frequently, until all sides are charred. Transfer to a bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let steam for 5 minutes. Using a knife, scrape the charred skin off the pepper. Remove stem and seeds.
Place pepper in food processor or blender. Add parsley, olive oil, vinegar, oregano, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pulse several times until finely chopped, but not puréed.
Meanwhile, dry the chicken with paper towels and place breast-side-down on a large cutting board. Using a sharp kitchen shears, remove the backbone by cutting along either side of it. Turn chicken over and lay out flat. Press firmly on breast to flatten the chicken. Tuck wing tips behind the back. Rub oil over chicken and season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Place chicken skin-side up on the indirect-heat side of the grill, with the legs facing the hot side of the grill. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until an internal meat thermometer registers about 150 degrees in the thigh and 120 degrees in the breast. Carefully flip chicken to skin-side down, keeping it over the indirect-heat side of the grill. Cover and cook about 10 to 15 minutes more, or until skin is crisp and chicken is cooked through.
Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Carve and serve with chimichurri.
Grilled Asparagus, Lemon and Feta Panzanella
Note: Grilling the asparagus and rustic bread for this spring version of an iconic summer salad gives it a pleasant smokiness. Grilling the lemon before its juice is added to the dressing tones down the acidity and sweetens its flavor. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 lb. thick asparagus (1 bunch), woody ends cut off
• 1/4 c. plus 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
• 2 (1-in.) slices of peasant bread (about 5 oz.)
• 1 large lemon, halved
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, divided
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 medium English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-in. pieces
• 1/2 c. thinly sliced red onion
• 1 c. tender herb leaves (Italian parsley, tarragon, mint and/or basil, or a combination)
• 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
• 1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
Prepare grill for medium-high heat.
Toss asparagus with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 tsp. salt. Brush 2 tablespoons oil on both sides of bread slices. Place the asparagus on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides and crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Place lemon halves, cut side down, on the grill and cook, 5 to 6 minutes, until charred on the cut sides and hot throughout. Place bread slices on the grill and cook, 1 or 2 minutes per side, until browned.
Squeeze the grilled lemon halves into a bowl and measure out 2 tablespoons of juice. In a large bowl, add the 2 tablespoons lemon juice, mustard, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Whisk in remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.
Cut grilled asparagus into 1 1/2-inch pieces and grilled bread into 1-inch cubes. Place both in a large bowl. Add cucumber, red onion, herbs, feta and pine nuts. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to combine.
Chocolate Strawberry Pavlova
Note: Elegant and easy, this light and luscious dessert is a spectacular ending to a lovely Memorial Day meal. The meringue needs to bake and cool completely in the oven before you can assemble it, which only takes a few minutes, so you'll need to plan ahead. From Meredith Deeds.
• 6 large egg whites
• 1 3/4 c. superfine sugar
• 3 tbsp. Dutch cocoa powder, sifted
• 1 tsp. cider vinegar
• 3 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 lb. strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
• 4 tbsp. sugar, divided
• 1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
• Grated dark chocolate, for garnish
To prepare the meringue: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.
In a mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whisk until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and chopped chocolate over the egg whites and gently fold in with a large spatula. Spoon the meringue onto the parchment in a 9-inch circle.
Place in the oven, and immediately reduce temperature to 300 degrees and cook for 1 hour. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let the meringue cool completely, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It will sink a bit in the middle and cracks will form. (The meringue can be made and kept in an airtight container 1 day ahead.) Carefully transfer meringue onto a large serving platter.
To prepare the topping: In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir to coat. Let sit for 20 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar on high speed until soft peaks form. Spoon cream into the sunken middle of the meringue. Sprinkle the grated chocolate over the top of the cream. Spoon the strawberries onto the middle of the cream and serve.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.