Tailgate Tale.

It’s now mid-August. As of last week, I’d cooked for one barbecue, one baby shower and one or two dinners since June, and that’s about it. No meals of fresh summer produce, no regular trips to the farmers market or co-op, no picnics, no regular use of the grill, nada. It’s not that I haven’t want to take advantage of the season; I’ve just been more inclined toward event cooking than everyday cooking. It suited my mood perfectly, then, when I found myself in possession of tickets to last week’s USA vs. Brazil friendly at the Meadowlands.

The guys we were meeting could pretty much be professional tailgaters, so I knew I had to come with something good—tough crowd, that. Everything had to be easy to make and easy to transport; an inexpensive menu wouldn’t hurt, either. With those parameters in mind, I cracked open my Evernote clippings and dug up a few recipes I’d been meaning to try.

I had a bag of zucchini in the bottom of the fridge from the aforementioned shower, soft in spots and fine in others. Trimmed down, thinly sliced, and set up to soak, they were ideal for pickles.

I julienned carrots, dressed them with lemon juice and spice-laden, harissa-spiked olive oil, mixed it all with mint and parsley and set it in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to mingle overnight. Gemelli pasta, boiled al dente, was bathed in green-olive and caper purée, then tossed with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls. A stick of butter, spiked with chipotle chiles and scallions, the intended accompaniment to grilled ears of Jersey corn.

My favorite thing to prep, though, were these little torpedoes of lamb. Thanks to a heady glaze of red wine, cinnamon, and garlic and a handful of fresh herbs, these were not your average ground-meat concoctions. A quick simmer, a little bit of cooling time, a minute or two to squish it all together, and an overnight stay in the refrigerator, then skewered and grilled on site—one or two extra steps elevated these to special-event-worthy fare.

I took a peek at the pickles en route to the stadium—they turned out beautifully, brilliantly colored, surprisingly sweet in flavor. I’m usually not a fan of pickles unless they’re dill or otherwise savory, but these had me constantly dipping into the jar.

We made a quick stop before heading to our group’s parking lot, where another set of semi-pro tailgaters were running a tight operation. Their grill was going, and deviled eggs (with brown-sugar bacon!) were passed around; we chatted, had a beer, then scurried off to our final destination.


The party was in full swing when we got there; the only thing left to do was applying the finishing touches to my contributions. I topped the carrot slaw with feta and gave it a toss; the dish was nicely tangy, the crunchy carrots and creamy feta a perfect match.

The pasta salad needed a final stir as well; it was a little dry after its stint in the refrigerator, but I’d wager a guess that that’s due more to the fact that I ran out of olive oil midway through than the length of the time it had to chill.

The big winners on the day, though, were the corn (seen above sans butter) and the lamb. Even the avowed haters in our group ate the skewered meat with gusto, the marinade masking the gamier flavors often found in lamb and lending an air of sophistication to the proceedings.

The last few pieces came off the grill just in time to make our way to our nosebleed seats. Brazil fans far outweighed Team USA fans, but even so, the atmosphere was convivial, the enthusiasm contagious.

We couldn’t make out the details from where we were sitting, but we could see the big picture just fine.

Zuni Café Zucchini Pickles
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, via the Los Angeles Times and Just Food

Total time: 20 minutes, plus marinating and pickling time
Servings: 3 cups

1 pound zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; a mandoline works best. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt. Alternatively, transfer the salted zucchini and onion slices to a Japanese pickle maker and screw down the top; do not add any water or ice cubes.

2. After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini — it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.

3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)

4. Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars, preferably ones that have “shoulders” to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
From Smitten Kitchen

3/4 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely grated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 crushed clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds or about half as much, ground (I used seeds but ground them first)
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds or about half as much, ground (I used the seed but ground them first, again)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon harissa (for a solid kick of heat; adjust yours to taste, and to the heat level of your harissa)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
100 grams feta, crumbled or chopped into bits

In a small sauté pan, cook the garlic, caraway, cumin, paprika, harissa and sugar in the oil until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Pour over the carrots and mix. Add the herbs and mix. Leave to infuse for an hour and add the feta before eating. With a fork.

Pasta Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Green Olivada
By Rick Rodgers | Bon Appétit, July 2010

1 garlic clove, peeled
2 cups coarsely chopped pitted green olives (from about 6 ounces unpitted whole olives), divided
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound gemelli, fusilli, or rotelle pasta
2 pints cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
1 8-ounce package small (cherry-size) fresh mozzarella balls in water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

With machine running, add garlic clove to processor through feed tube and process until finely chopped; turn off machine. Add 1 cup chopped olives, capers, red wine vinegar, anchovy paste, mustard, and crushed red pepper. Using 6 on/off turns, process to chop coarsely. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup olive oil, forming coarse puree. Transfer to bowl; stir in remaining 1 cup olives. Season olivada to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Olivada can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain well. Transfer drained pasta to large bowl. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon oil over pasta; toss to coat. Cool, stirring occasionally.

Add olivada, halved tomatoes, mozzarella, and oregano to pasta; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Corn on the Cob with Chipotle-Scallion Butter
By Shelley Wiseman | Gourmet, July 2008

3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup minced scallions (2 to 3)
1 tablespoon minced seeded canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
6 large ears of corn, shucked and halved

Stir together butter, scallions, chipotles, zest, and rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Cook corn in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with tongs to butter mixture and toss.

Friulian Lamb Skewers
Adapted from Jody Adams, via TastingTable

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, divided
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ cup red wine
¼ cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons minced mint
1 pound ground lamb

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, pepper and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the cinnamon, paprika and red wine. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until thick and glossy. (You should have about ¼ cup of the glaze.) Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cool, about 20 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the cooled red wine glaze with the parsley, mint, lamb and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Form the lamb mixture into 18 portions that are 1 inch wide and 2 inches long (approximately 1 ounce each) and skewer each portion. Place the skewers on a plate, cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

3. Preheat a grill to medium-high and cook the skewers until cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

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One thought on “Tailgate Tale.

  1. Marsha Stanton says:

    and the lamb was delicious, coming from one who doesn’t usually eat lamb!

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