Pineapple might be the gateway grill fruit. Its solid texture makes it nearly impossible to mess up, while its year-round availability provides ample opportunities to try different treatments. I like setting a slice beneath a scoop of sherbet and I have enjoyed it smoked in an upside-down cake. But my go-to treatment is salsa, with its play of stinging peppers against the tart pineapple. Its summery and goes great with grilled fish.
Success with pineapple will entice you to expand the fruited field. A quarter-inch- to half-inch-thick slab of watermelon (cut into quarters for easy handling) grills in about two minutes per side and pairs incredibly well with feta and mint. A small halved and seeded cantaloupe grilled cut side down for a few minutes, then filled with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream makes a sort of grilled Creamsicle. Even plantains, which seem too soft to take the heat, caramelize nicely when brushed with vegetable oil and taste fabulous when tossed in a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar, a little orange juice and a sprinkling of cayenne or ancho chili powder.
Because fruit generally likes a medium or medium-hot fire, adding them on the grate puts to good use the dying coals after youve grilled a main course. If you like char, simply set the fruit over the fire, and in a few minutes, your work is done.
If you prefer smoke, set up an indirect fire (charcoal on one side of your grill) and, as you eat dinner, let the fruit slowly cook on the cool side of the grill, a method that imparts a deeper, though still subtle, smoke flavor than grilling alone. If your fire is medium, you can usually have your dinner without constantly monitoring the grill. Most fruit will cook slowly enough to allow you to enjoy your dinner party without constantly monitoring the grill. In 20 to 30 minutes, the fruit will look tanned and taste of a whiff of smoke.
Salsas are a fabulous way to use grilled fruit. Pineapple and habanero salsa is one of my favorites for grilled fish. The pineapples meaty texture and tangy flavor, spiked with the bracing habanero, transport grilled fish to the tropics. Never a bad place to be.
FIRE-GRILLED PINEAPPLE SALSA
Makes about 1 cup
Olive oil (optional)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 medium lime)
3 tablespoons diced red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced habanero pepper, preferably red (to add color)
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; when the coals are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds.
Slice off the spiky top and about 1/2 inch from the base of the pineapple. Use a sharp knife to cut away the peel and eyes. Slice the pineapple in half lengthwise. Slice one of the halves lengthwise into 2 wedges; cut out the core from the 2 wedges and discard it. Save the remaining pineapple half for another use.
If desired, lightly grease the sides of the pineapple wedges with a little oil. When the grill is ready, transfer the wedges to the grate and grill on each side for 3 to 4 minutes or until the pineapple turns a golden color or you start to see some char.
Transfer the pineapple wedges to a cutting board. Let cool for 5 minutes, then dice the pineapple to yield about 1 cup and transfer it to a medium bowl. If you have more pineapple than you need, reserve the remainder for another purpose, such as an ice cream topping or an addition to a fruit salad.
Add the onion, lime juice, habanero and cilantro to the pineapple, and season with salt to taste. Stir to combine. Serve at room temperature, or cover, refrigerate and serve chilled.
Make ahead: The pineapple can be grilled up to 2 days before you plan to use it. The assembled salsa keeps well in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 days.
Nutrition per tablespoon: 5 calories, 0 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar