My husband Jack first made these Grilled Italian Vegetable Napoleons with Basil Oil a number of years back during his former food service career. He was managing a large outdoor event for 120 Japanese dignitaries who were visiting the Boston area, and dinner included these wonderful napoleons, as well as grilled sirloin steaks and swordfish!
For the event, Jack’s team rented eight six-foot grills to prepare the meal. Because the rented grills were open with no lids, the plan was to first grill the vegetables, and then assemble and finish them in the oven back in the corporate kitchen while the steaks and fish grilled.
If you’ve ever worked in food service, then you know – you have to be prepared for the unexpected!
Five minutes before the vegetable napoleons were supposed to go into the oven so the cheese could be melted, an electrical system malfunctioned and the power went out in the building! And the ovens – which were supposed to be used to melt the cheese on the vegetable napoleons – shut down!
But dinner had to go on, so to get the cheese to melt, Jack and his team lined up the vegetable napoleons on the grill, with foil tents over them so the cheese would melt! And – even better – the napoleons also picked up a wonderful smoky flavor which really enhanced the finished dish!
This outdoor event took place at the National Fire Protection Association building in Quincy, Massachusetts – and when the fire department arrived to handle the electrical outage, the dignitaries took photos of the fire trucks pulling up and applauded when dinner was served – thinking that this was all part of the show at dinner!
So now, whenever Jack makes these grilled Italian vegetable napoleons with basil oil – he always uses the grill to melt the cheese as the final step for this dish! In addition to the wonderful smoky flavors from the grill, he also uses a smoked mozzarella as the cheese of choice – although regular, fresh mozzarella is also delicious. The finished napoleons have an intense vegetable flavor with just a bit of basil oil as a delicious complementary flavor!Print
The secret to preparing this dish is to grill the vegetables dry, and add flavored oil after they are finished. (We see so many recipes that coat the vegetables in oil before grilling – but we feel that coating of oil ruins the texture and flavors of this dish!) We salt the vegetables first, then let them sit for an hour to drain off any excess liquid before grilling and assembling. Also, the basil oil can be prepared anytime before grilling and held until ready to serve. While the vegetables are draining would be a good time to get this step done. The method we include in this recipe is necessary to ensure that the basil retains its bright green color.
- 1–2 large eggplants, stems sliced off, skin left on and cut into thick one inch or larger slices (Need 8 large slices or 16 medium slices)
- 2–3 large zucchini, stems sliced off, skin left on and cut into thick slices on the bias (Need 16, two per portion)
- 2–3 very large red ripe tomatoes, skin left on and cut into thick one inch or larger slices (Need 8 large slices)
- 2 large sweet bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
- Vegetable oil to coat grill
- 16 slices smoked mozzarella cheese (about ½ pound). Each slice should be approximately ½ ounce.
For the Basil oil
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Line two sheet pans with racks and lay out the eggplant, zucchini and tomato slices. Generously salt both sides and allow to drain for 30 minutes. Turn and allow to drain 30 more minutes. Rinse and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- To prepare the Basil Oil: Heat a small pan with water until boiling. In a small bowl, have ice water ready. Lay out a few paper towels. Have a spider or strainer ready. Drop the fresh basil into the boiling water and count to three then remove to the ice bath with the strainer. Remove from the ice bath and squeeze in the paper towels. Transfer to a small food processor along with the cup of olive oil and the 1/8th teaspoon of salt and process just enough to break up the basil but not pureed. Set aside.
- Heat grill to hot.
- On one side, place the whole bell peppers directly on the grill.
- With tongs and paper towels, mop a little vegetable oil on the grill grates.
- Place each vegetable slice on the oiled grill and grill 1 minute for tomatoes, 2-3 minutes for eggplant and 3-4 minutes for zucchini. You want nice grill marks on both sides with the vegetables just slightly cooked through. Depending on how hot your grill gets, times will vary. With the tomatoes, you want to remove them before they fall apart so no more than 30 seconds on each side.
- Keep turning the peppers so that they blacken on all sides. Have a plastic zip lock bag close by.
- As each vegetable is cooked, transfer to a sheet pan until everything is off the grill. Once the peppers are completely charred, remove with tongs to the zip lock bag. Let them stay zipped in the bag for five to ten minutes to steam off the skin. After the five to ten minutes, remove to a cutting board. Remove skin, stem and seeds and cut each pepper into four somewhat even pieces.
- Leave grill on hot and spray a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray. Start layering eight piles on the prepared pan starting with eggplant, then tomato, then half the cheese, then two zucchini slices. Top with the cooked bell pepper pieces and finish with the remaining cheese. If they slide and will not stay in place, you can insert a tooth pick through the center, just remember to remove before serving.
- Place the pan back in the grill and cover the grill until the cheese melts. (3-5 minutes)
- Serve one as a side dish or two as an entrée drizzled with the reserved basil oil.
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