Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Italy, Outdoors: Turn your backyard into a trattoria this summer

When one thinks of Italian cooking, grilled foods may not come to mind. But Italians do love their grilled food, often cooked over a wood fire.

A favorite memory of mine is the grilled lamb I had in a little trattoria in the hills of Umbria, Italy. We sat outside on a cool spring evening, the scent of woodsmoke hanging in the air. It was not my little deck at home.

The Italians have a term for a cookout.  It’s grigliata or “grill out,” with each region in Italy having its own specialty. The classic star of Italian grilling is bistecca alla Fiorentina, the beautiful, thick T-bone steak cut from chianina cattle in Tuscany. But other foods shine on the Italian grill: fresh fish and shellfish, brightly colored summer vegetables like zucchini and eggplant, and spiedini, the Italian version of “shish kabobs.” Tomatoes are grilled for a quick pasta sauce, and pizzas take on a wonderfully smokey taste when cooked over a wood fire. What matters is that all the food is fresh, simply prepared, and dressed with high quality olive oil and sea salt.

So, June is here, and Father’s Day will be coming soon. In our family, we celebrate three birthdays in June, as well. So, it will be a perfect time for us to have a “grill party,” and steaks are always a great choice. I gave this recipe a trial run and found it to be simple to make and easy to tweak.

  • Choose the type of steak you like best (I used New York strip).
  • Either red or white wine works for the marinade.
  • Serve the grilled vegetables in large sections instead of cutting them into smaller pieces with the tomato as the recipe suggests.
  • Add whole mushrooms and/or halved sweet onions.
  • Definitely serve potatoes alongside (roasted with rosemary, garlic mashed or simply baked).
  • Double the marinade for extra to pour over the finished dish.

In his book, “The Italian Grill,” the well-known chef Mario Batali advises that, when grilling, one shouldn’t interfere with the flavor of the primary ingredient. That is why this simple preparation is so good. There is no overpowering barbecue sauce or spicy rub that steals the taste of the vegetables and meat. No sticky sweet teriyaki sauce here. But the ingredients must be fresh and high quality.


Italian Marinated Steak and Grilled Vegetables

Ingredients for the marinade

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white or red wine
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 steaks (rib eye, New York strip, T-bone, porterhouse)

Ingredients for the vegetables

  • 1 small eggplant
  • 2 large red or yellow peppers, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise in half
  • 1½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Pour ½ cup of the marinade in a zip-top plastic bag and place the steaks inside. Turn to coat. Marinate for 6 hours or overnight (better) in the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate the remaining marinade.
  • When ready to grill, brush the vegetables with a little of the remaining marinade.


  • Remove steak from the plastic bag and discard the marinade.
  • Grill the vegetables over medium heat until softened and lightly charred. Watch them carefully and do not overcook.
  • When the vegetables are cooked, remove them to a platter, and place the steaks on the grill. If using a gas grill, grill the steaks covered to a temperature of 145 degrees for medium rare. Baste them occasionally with the remaining marinade.
  • Cut the vegetables into 1-inch pieces and combine with the tomatoes, basil and the reserved marinade in a medium bowl. (It becomes almost like a salsa or relish.)
  • Season the steaks and vegetables with good sea salt and black pepper.

Lay the steaks along an oval platter, and arrange the vegetables along either side. Garnish with a few extra sprigs of fresh basil. Grab a bottle of your favorite red wine (Chianti Classico is a perfect choice.)

This is such an easy summer meal. If red wine isn’t your favorite, mix up some icy gin and tonics, negronis or margaritas. They are great accompaniments, too.

Happy Father’s Day to all. And happy summer. Hopefully, warm weather is here to stay.

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