My favorite dishes are often the serendipitous ones—dishes that are born through happenstance and that sometimes end up surpassing anything I might have planned on. One group of dishes in my repertoire that came about this way is pasta tossed with grilled meats or vegetables. What began as a way to use grilled leftovers the day after a cookout has turned into a purposeful way of cooking.
All three recipes I'm including here are filled with that smoky, charred flavor that we love so much from grilled foods. And while they all have grilled ingredients tossed together, they all feel quite different because they're bound in different ways. The Penne with Grilled Chicken, Portabellas & Scallions uses olive oil and a little of the pasta boiling water to make a light but creamy emulsion to moisten and bind the ingredients. In the Spaghetti with Grilled Eggplant, Tomato & Onion, the grilled vegetables collapse and become saucelike as they get tossed with the pasta. And the topping for Ravioli with Grilled Vegetable Sauce is a purée—a sauce in the classic sense. All of these sauces can be enhanced, of course, by the addition of condiments and seasonings.
Add texture and flavor to grilled pasta dishes
When it's time to toss the grilled ingredients with the pasta, consider reaching into your pantry for condiments and seasonings that will add even more flavor and texture to the finished dish. Garlic, of course, is a natural, but here are more tasty complements to the smoky sweetness of these grilled pastas.
- For fresh herb flavor, stir in chopped basil, mint, parsley, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, or fennel leaves.
- For heat or zip, add freshly crushed black pepper, dried red chile flakes, crushed fennel seed, or green peppercorns.
- For crunch and texture, try walnuts, chopped roasted almonds, pine nuts, grilled chunks of peasant bread, or crisped, chopped pancetta or bacon.
- For a salty-briny kick, toss in some chopped black or green olives or capers. Sardines or salted anchovies are particularly good with grilled shellfish.
Use vegetables that hold up well on the grill
Vegetables that are moist yet hold their shapes reasonably on the grill are my favorites for these pastas.
Eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, asparagus, scallions, and bell peppers work best. These vegetables stay relatively intact during grilling, yet they'll get soft enough to bond with the pasta when you toss. The one exception here is tomatoes, which usually do fall apart when you grill them. But when it comes to these pastas, a grilled tomato's fragile consistency is a big plus: soft, charred flesh and juice become saucelike and are transformed into a delicious dressing for the pasta.