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The Front Burner

The Front Burner: Grill some greenery to mark summer's end

By Donna Ellis

4:08 PM EDT, September 20, 2012

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To everything there is a season, or so it is said. And that includes grilling. Not that you won't venture out on a cooler evening to barbecue some chicken, but autumn is here — almost — and the desire to dine al fresco is waning along with the summer weather.

What to do? Well, host a dinner designed to highlight the transition from outdoors to indoors, the transition of our gardens from green to gold and orange.

Our menu du jour — for eight of our nearest and dearest — has quasi-Southwestern undertones. It begins with grilled pancetta-wrapped scallops with an herbed dunk.

Keep the grill fire going, though, because you'll next want to chargrill some pork chops to go with the tomatillo sauce you're going to fix. And while you're at it, throw on some baby zucchini. They'll go well with the baby spinach and avocado salad you're also going to whip up.

For dessert, we employ the pale green of pears, along with berries, to bake up a blackberry-pear cobbler.

And, in keeping with our Green Scene, don't forget to proffer quaffs of that hue. Margaritas come to mind, of course. But crisp, fruity white wines will go well. Perhaps even a red with the pork. Or beer from green bottles for an "aperitif," as well as to accompany the chops.

Have fun …

Pancetta scallops

You can make the dunk in the morning and refrigerate until serving time. And, you can also wrap the scallops with pancetta and keep them chilled until you're ready to grill them.

If you want to add carbs to the proceedings, offer multicolored tortilla chips and a couple of different salsas.

The dunk

1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 scallion, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

The scallops

24 sea scallops, trimmed, if needed

24 large, fresh basil leaves, optional

Enough pancetta (Italian bacon) slices to wrap the 24 scallops quite well (or use prosciutto)

8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes (just before skewering the scallops)

Olive oil

For the dunk, in a food processor, combine ingredients and pulse-process until parsley is finely chopped. Remove to a small serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving time.

For the scallops, wrap a tender basil leaf around each scallop, then over-wrap with pancetta or prosciutto to enclose well. Place on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. If not grilling right away, cover and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before cooking.

To grill, spray-coat a grilling rack and heat grill to medium-high. Thread three wrapped scallops onto each (soaked) skewer, leaving a bit of space between scallops. Grill until scallops are cooked and pancetta is crisp, turning occasionally, about 6 to 7 minutes.

To serve, place dunk in the center of an oval serving platter. Arrange grilled scallops around dunk. Makes eight servings of one skewer each.

Grilled pork chops, plus

In keeping with our "green" theme, we fix a tomatillo salsa (up to a day ahead) to dollop on the meat. Serve with lightly grill-toasted flour tortillas.

The chops take about 8 minutes per side to cook. The zucchini takes about 6 minutes total. So, prep the zuke ahead, then add to grill shortly after you've turned the chops to cook on the second side.

For the zucchini, trim one and a half pounds baby green (summer) squashes (at least 8 of them). In a zip-top plastic bag, combine about 1/2 cup olive oil, 4 cloves peeled, sliced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each sea salt and coarse black pepper. Add zucchini and marinate at room temperature for about a half-hour, until ready to cook.

When ready to cook, use a fork or skewer to pierce each zucchini several times. Place on grill after you've turned the chops. Grill until tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer to serving platter along with finished chops.

Tomatillo salsa

16 tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), husked, rinsed

5 whole garlic cloves

3 jalapeno peppers

3/4 lb. finely chopped vidalia (sweet) onion

3/4 cup (lightly packed) chopped, fresh cilantro

Chops

8 (1-inch thick, or more) boneless pork chops

1 large garlic clove, peeled, halved

Olive oil, for brushing

16 flour tortillas

For the tomatillo salsa, preheat broiler. Arrange tomatillos, garlic and jalapenos on a baking sheet (with sides) and broil until veggies are tender, and slightly charred, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool enough to handle.

Remove stems, seeds and pith from jalapenos. Place them in a processor. Add tomatillos, garlic, onion and cilantro. Process until almost smooth. Taste for salt and pepper.

For the chops, prepare grill for medium-high cooking. Rub both sides of pork chops with the halved garlic cloves. Sprinkle with some pepper. Brush with some olive oil. Grill until just cooked through, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving platter, and let rest about 10 minutes before serving. Surround with grilled zucchini on one end of platter. Add grilled tortillas (folded in fourths) to the other end of platter. Serve tomatillo salsa on the side.

For the flour tortillas, after taking chops and zucchini off grill, wait a few minutes, then add tortillas and grill until slightly charred, about 1 minute per side.

Baby spinach and avocado salad

Talk about simple! To gild the (green) "lily," we explore the method for making homemade tortilla strips, which will come in handy for adding crunch to cold-weather soups.

5 tablespoons olive oil

6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, each cut into 3-by-1/2-inch strips

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

5 teaspoons chopped shallot

2 teaspoons honey

3 tablespoons olive oil

12 cups loosely packed, trimmed baby spinach

2 avocadoes, peeled, pitted, cut lengthwise into quarter-inch thick strips

For the tortilla strips, in a large, heavy skillet, over medium high, heat the 5 tablespoons olive oil. Working in batches, fry tortilla strips until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle with some sea salt.

For the dressing, whisk together the lime juice, shallot, honey and 3 tablespoons olive oil.

To serve, place spinach and avocado strips in a large bowl. Add dressing; toss gently. Taste for seasonings. Top with tortilla strips. Serve right away.

Pear-berry cobbler

Our dessert marks a bit of a transition from summer (the berries) to autumn (the pears).

You can make this the morning of, cover with foil when cool, then gently reheat in oven (at about 325 degrees) just before serving time.

4 cups blackberries

2 to 3 large d'anjou pears, halved, cored, very thinly sliced, about 2 1/2 cups

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel

Scant teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more, for sprinkling

The topping

1 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Confectioners sugar, for sprinkling

Ice cream, for serving, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Use soft butter to butter a 3-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, gently toss together the 3/4 cup sugar, wine, orange peel and cinnamon.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, the 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Add most of the milk, melted butter, and extracts. And whisk until blended. Spread flour mixture into prepared baking dish. Add the berry-pear mixture. (Do not stir.) Sprinkle with additional cinnamon, if desired.

Bake until crust is set in center and brown at edges, about 1 hour. Cool 30 minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm — with ice cream, if desired.