Last Saturday I began harvesting tomatoes from my garden in earnest. All of a sudden — at least it seemed to me — they were ready to be picked, plucked.
A few days earlier, I had spied a couple ripe tomatoes lying on the ground beside the momma plant. Then I noticed some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes starting to wrinkle. I knew I couldn't wait any longer.
So I grabbed a huge silver mixing bowl from the kitchen and headed out to the garden to begin carefully detaching heirloom Flamés, one by one, from their connection to the "mother ship." Breaking the cord to mom, each baby left home with either an "innie" (a clean break) or an "outie" (a bit of stem still attached). Soon the bowl was nearly brimming, with orange orbs nestled cozily next to each other, row upon row.
I had also picked green tomatoes — Aunt Ruby's German Green ones, to be more specific — earlier in the week and was nervous about whether we would enjoy them in time. Since the tomatoes were truly green ones, never to turn red, what better tomatoes to use for a fried green tomatoes recipe I really wanted to try. (Recipe posted below.)
I wasn't familiar with this particular way of enjoying green tomatoes until I saw Fried Green Tomatoes about 15 years ago at the beloved, now closed, Act One and Two theatre in Berkeley. Fortunately the fixing and enjoyment of fried green tomatoes in the movie has stuck with me more than the infamous barbecue made with mystery meat. (If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.)
I think — no, I know — I saw that movie four times when it first came out. I was doing the same — coming out — after years of internal struggle. The story of the intense relationship between tomboy Idgie and sweet Ruth — though depicted with quite a subtle subtext, not nearly as obvious as I would have liked (unlike in the book, I might add, which I read later on) — momentarily satisfied my hunger ... and sent me back to see it again, and again, and again.
Would my "first-try" fried green tomatoes do the same? Well, I can't say that they fulfilled my heart's desire this time, but they were good, and I will make them again — and I especially loved the chimichurri sauce the cookbook suggested for a topping.
But I did learn a few apropos things:
1. Use really green, unripe tomatoes. I'm sure Aunt Ruby's German Green tomatoes would be better if used before they ripen (which is a bit hard to tell from looking, but if you squeeze tenderly you'll know). Alas, mine were a bit on the sloppy side, as they were nice and juicy. While I tried to let the juice run off as much as possible, I believe a firmer tomato is the way to go.
2. Don't hesitate to really fry them. In retrospect, I should have cooked them longer and at a higher temperature to really get the cornmeal to brown, rather than just tan.
3. Watch the garlic. The roasted-garlic paste mentioned below is scrumptious, but I would use less than the recipe calls for next time. Even though Peach and I shared the dish, I used more chimichurri condiment … and I paid for it later, if you know what I mean.
Fried Green Tomato Pillows
(from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven cookbook)
Traditional fried green tomatoes are very light, and are usually served as a side dish or a snack. Attempting to create a fried green tomato variation substantial enough to be a light brunch or supper entrée, I came up with these fantastic cornmeal batter-coated puffs. Serve them with any one of several toppings alongside some cooked greens or a tossed salad, and everyone will be happy for hours.
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 large unripe tomatoes, in 1/2-inch slices (about a pound)
A little oil or butter for the pan
Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and cayenne in a medium-sized bowl and stir until well combined. Make a well in the center.
In a separate bowl, beat together the milk and eggs until frothy, and pour this into the well in the center of the flour/cornmeal mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined, but don't overmix.
Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch rounds. (Meanwhile begin heating a little oil or melting a little butter in a skillet over medium heat.)
Add the tomato slices to the batter one by one, pushing them around gently with a spoon until they are well coated. Lift them from the batter with the spoon, and add them to the hot skillet. (You might need to spoon a little extra batter on top of each tomato, so no bald spots are peeking through.) Fry on both sides until crispy and golden, and serve hot, topped with sour cream, yogurt, Chipotle Cream, or Chimichurri (see recipe below).
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Preparation time: 20 to 30 minutes
1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 cup (packed) parsley
6 scallions, in 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
2 tablespoons Roasted Garlic Paste (see below)
A pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the cilantro, parsley, scallions, and oregano in a food processor, and mince very fine. Add the Roasted Garlic Paste, cayenne, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and process to a paste. Drizzle in the oil at the very end, with the food processor still running.
Yield: 1/2 cup (easily doubled)
Preparation time: 10 minutes, after the Roasted Garlic Paste is made.
This keeps for a week or two if stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator. Just use as you would any condiment.
Roasted Garlic Paste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a small baking pan with foil. Trim the tips of the garlic, then stand the bulbs upright on the foil. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the bulb feels soft when gently pressed. (Larger bulbs will take longer to roast.) When cool enough to handle, simply break the bulb into individual cloves, and squeeze out the roasted garlic pulp into a small bowl. (This part will be a little messy, but worth the slight inconvenience.)
Note: You can also roast individual cloves of garlic. Use large ones and don't peel them first. Lightly oil the baking pan, and scatter the cloves on the oiled surface. Roast for only 10 minutes. Cool, and then squeeze out the pulp as in the instructions above.