The hobo pack takes its place alongside a tuna fish sandwich and Jell-O as one of my earliest recipes -Chris SchlesingerA few weeks back, toward the end of a CSA week, I found myself in possession of a variety of vegetables needing to be used. Half a head of Napa cabbage, some scapes, a few green onions, some cooking greens, etc. There was even a bulb of fennel. complete with fronds. What to do with them? That’s easy. I created a hobo pack.
For a while I have wanted to share a recipe or two with my friends from my CSA: Root Down Farm in Clarence New York. But when I did this hobo pack I thought wouldn’t it be better to share some of my favorite ways to use up my CSA haul that don’t require a specific recipe. Two of the three methods I share here can be seasoned with nothing but oil, salt and pepper. Pick some herbs or use dried. Add a prepared seasoning blend or even a bottle of prepared Italian dressing.
The first is the hobo pack, the simple act of wrapping food in a foil packet and tossing them right on the grill or even directly on the coals of a wood fire. I’d been making those since I was a kid at summer camp, but I never knew it had a name. It took on new meaning and the name when I first read The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. Replace tuna and ketchup with more “high-class” ingredients and you can have a dish fit for any meal.
But the dynamics of cooking with live coals left of the distinct impression on my mind, and I still enjoy the unpredictability and unique character of this technique. It’s always a dramatic moment when you open the foil package that is been hidden for half an hour in the mysteries of the fire. Chris Schlesinger.So I pulled out a foot or two of heavy-duty aluminum foil and drizzled it with a bit of olive oil. I cut up the vegetables into smaller pieces – still pretty large and scattered them on the foil. I sliced the bulb fennel, reserving the fronds*, and scattered the slices on top. As I was assembling I thought sweet-and-sour would be a good addition so I sprinkled about a tablespoon of brown sugar over the top and about the same of sherry vinegar just because it’s my favorite.
A little more olive oil was drizzled over the top and everything was sprinkled with salt and pepper. I toss gently with my fingers and sealed the foil packaged tightly. I tossed it right on the grill grate directly over the burning charcoal.
Almost immediately the packet begins to crackle and pop. The only sin that can be committed is undercooking. A little bit of char is tasty and if it’s too burned simply discard it. That’s part of the fun of cooking over live fire.
After a while I carefully turned the packet over. You want to try to avoid ripping the foil, as the dripping oil is likely to flare-up. But that’s a minor inconvenience not a disaster. At this point the foil usually puffs up from the pressure of steam and hot air – just like Jiffy Pop, it’s as much fun to make is to eat.
Don’t forget that it’s not just vegetables that can be cooked in a hobo pack. Potatoes are superb, and add your dinner protein and you’re cooking the grilling version of en papillot. You just have to cook it a little longer.
Of course, you don’t have to go to that much work. You can just dispense with the tinfoil and toss your vegetables right on the grill. For this it is often helpful to use one of those mesh or perforated devices you placed directly on your grates. I usually just toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper. I add any additional seasonings just before serving. Once again a little scorching is both attractive and tasty.
Potatoes are truly wonderful cook straight on the grill. Carrots too. Cook them with a little oil sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop right on the grates. Cook until tender. Just as an aside I don’t bother to appeal those wonderful CSA carrots. But my favorite way to cook potatoes is to slice them lengthwise into planks about a quarter of an inch thick, seasoned them was something funky like chilli powder or other spice blend. Stick the planks rate on the grill over the hot coals. They won’t take too long to cook and they are fantastic.
The last way is really served for tubers and root vegetables, usually things like potatoes sweet potatoes and the like. That’s to take the object and nestle it right into the coals turning occasionally about 30% of the potato will get rendered inedible when cooking in this fashion, but what is left is perhaps the finest potato you will ever taste. I have to admit that I usually save this method for camping.
So don’t be afraid to be creative. Feel free to call combine leftover bits that haven’t been used up. And don’t be afraid to experiment. I guarantee you will really enjoy.
*Oh, and those fennel fronds? I put the in a mason jar with some peeled garlic cloves and a chilli I scored first. I poured in some heated cider vinegar (just to a slight simmer). Covered it and put it in a cool dark place to steep for two weeks. I can’t wait to use it.