Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Grilling for Snobs

By Dorothy Cole

JUNE 28, 1999: 

Jamie Purviance's Weber's Art of the Grill (Chronicle, hardcover, $35)

The subtitle of this cookbook is "recipes for outdoor living," which calls to mind sleeping on the beach and sheltering under pine branches. This is misleading. The real subtitle ought to have been "taking your barbeque upscale" or, better yet, "impress people with your fancy, expensive gas grill." This volume is not about throwing a hunk of flesh on some coals or about eating in the woods. It's about gourmet pretensions and rarified ambiance.

Jamie Purviance, who worked with the Weber Grill people to compile this collection, is a professional chef and "recipe developer" from -- where else? -- California. You can tell by the tone and content of the book that he didn't exactly receive his training in the U.S. Navy. His degree is from the Culinary Institute of America, and his recipes aren't for slobs.

This is not to say that the information it contains isn't usable. I've gotten some great ideas for potlucks by simplifying some of the notions in Martha Stewart's books, and the same is possible here. There are useful charts and instructions on cooking times, utensils and cuts of meat, and most of the recipes sound delicious. But Weber gives you a lot of that stuff free anyway when you buy one of their grills. What's extra here are a lot of fancy settings and snobbish advice about entertaining. You can take or leave the advice; I'm sure it has its place. Because several of the recipes are much more elaborate than they need to be, most would work fine with a few steps left out.

The book also includes a fairly detailed guide about which wines to serve with different recipes and suggests artful settings for entertaining with grilled food. Most of it is pretty far removed from the average backyard barbeque, but that is really the point. It's aimed at those who aspire to a higher level of refinement, a more exalted social milieu. The wine guide is a clue: Members of this book's target audience don't like to picture themselves guzzling Bud out of a can.

Purviance shares billing with photographer Tim Turner, and rightly so. With the exception of the sauces at the front, each recipe has its own glossy color photograph. The pictures are probably the book's best feature. As a coffeetable book, this is worth buying even if the recipes are too complicated for normal human beings. In fact, the pictures look so tasty, you could have your guests look at them while you grill up a supper of hot dogs and hamburgers for them. The visuals practically guarantee an appetite for whatever you serve.

Garlic-Roasted Potatoes on Rosemary Skewers

Skewers fashioned from sturdy rosemary branches add a subtle flavor to this simple dish and make for a notable presentation. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil lend an appealing bite. If rosemary is unavailable, bamboo skewers can be substituted. Soak them in water for at least 30 minutes beforehand.

1 pound red or white new potatoes, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 sturdy rosemary branches
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Cut the potatoes in half and place in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Strip almost all of the leaves from the rosemary branches to form skewers, leaving some leaves near the slightly thinner end. Finely chop enough leaves to measure 2 tablespoons and add them to the potatoes.

Toss the potatoes to coat thoroughly with the oil and seasonings. Using the thicker end of each rosemary skewer as a point, thread the potato halves onto the skewers, dividing them evenly. Grill the skewers directly over medium heat until the skins begin to brown and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small sauté pan over high heat and boil until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 4 minutes (the vinegar will be syrupy). Pour enough of the remaining olive oil onto a serving platter to form a thin layer. Sprinkle the oil with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the warm vinegar over the oil. Place the skewers on the platter, turn the potatoes in the oil and vinegar and serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

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