Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes

This recipe appeared in the June/July 2007 issues of Flavours magazine.

My father-in-law introduced me to Fried Green Tomatoes (for what it’s worth, he also introduced me to Lonnie Donegan, Popeye’s chicken, and Jack Daniels). Marcel, who is now chef for the Oblate Sisters, would pan fry thick slices of green tomato with onions and banana peppers, and serve them over toast. This is still a perennial summer treat for me; sometimes I add a fried egg or grilled Italian sausage.

Green tomatoes are hard and sour when raw but become tender and develop a delicious sweetness when cooked. They have an almost tropical fruit quality in their tangy, sweet-and-sour flavour. This is probably why every old prairie cookbook will have a recipe for green tomato chutney along side its recipe for pickled watermelon rind.

Chefs, cookbook writers and gardeners wax poetic on the joys of a beautiful, ripe red tomato fresh out of the garden. A fresh garden tomato’s colour, fragrance, and powerful burst of flavour all conspire to give you a culinary moment which is near perfection. “There are only two things that money can’t buy,” as Guy Clark sang, “and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes.” Little red and orange cherries, bright yellow pears or teeny tiny grape tomatoes are like sweet little candies right out of the garden. Crisp, bright early girl tomatoes on toast with mayo and a leaf of basil make a simply faultless lunch. Thick slices of dark red beefsteak or ox blood tomatoes sit proudly next to a perfectly grilled steak. An attractive summer salad would include a variety of heirloom tomatoes: from green zebras to purple brandywines, tossed in a light vinaigrette, and complimented by some edible flowers such as spicy nasturtiums, lemony begonias and cucumber scented borage blossoms. The anticipation of summer tomatoes is what keeps prairie people alive through the cold winter months. Garden tomatoes are the light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the beacon of hope which keeps us going when the world around is cold and bleak. No one but a prairie person experiences the pure joy of that first tomato, fresh and juicy, picked from the garden vine.

If beautifully ripe tomatoes are so good, why in the world would you pick them under-ripe? Firstly, tomatoes can fall off the vine before they are ripe (usually the kids knock them off while sword fighting in the garden). Sometimes you want to pick your tomatoes unripe because the weatherman is predicting a frost. You might also want to pick the small and misshapen tomatoes to encourage the other tomatoes to grow bigger and redder. People who enter vegetable growing competitions are continually trimming the smaller fruit in order to give more energy to the remaining fruit. This is how they grow zucchini’s to the size of Volkswagens. The best reason to pick green tomatoes: they’re fun and they taste great.

Green tomatoes are delicious simply fried in olive oil or butter. You can lightly bread them with flour, bread crumbs or corn meal. You can dice them and use them in chutney - just substitute them for the peaches, apricots, mangoes or whatever your favorite chutney recipe calls for. You can cut them in half, oil them and BBQ them. They make an interesting and delicious pie. You can dice them into salsas and gazpachos, or use them in place of tomatillo in southwestern recipes. You can peel, seed and puree them, spice them up with lime, green Tabasco and Worcestershire, and then spike the mixture with vodka for a zesty green Caesar. Summer is here, have some fun and treat your self to some fried green tomatoes!

Green Tomato Pie

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ lb lard
¼ lb butter
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ cup orange juice
ice water

1. Put flour, salt, sugar, spices, lard and butter in food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2. With processor running, drizzle in orange juice and enough ice water to form a dough.
3. Wrap dough and chill.

12 medium size green tomatoes
2 cups golden raisins
Rind and juice from 1 lemon
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup grated ginger
¼ cup butter, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 450F
2. Roll out half of pie crust in pie plate. chill
3. Toss tomatoes, lemon and raisins together
4. Combine dry ingredients.
5. Toss dry ingredients with tomatoes. arrange in chilled pie shell. top with dots of butter
6. Top pie shell with remaining pastry, crimp edges. (if feeling fancy, do a lattice crust)
7. Place pie in hot oven, reduce heat to 350. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
8. Cool to room temperature before serving.

*Try serving this with a healthy scoop of rum raisin ice cream!

Green Tomato Napolean with Crab and Arugula
serves 4

16 thick slices of green tomato

3 eggs
¼ cup buttermilk

½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 cup flour

½ cup cornmeal
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp chili powder

¼ cup canola oil
1 lb crab meat
2 cups cream
1 red pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch chilies
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
¼ cup dry white wine
s+p to taste

1 lb arugula leaves
½ cup sour cream
chopped chives or green onion

1. Whisk eggs and butter milk together. combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika. combine bread crumbs, corn meal and chili powder.
2. Bread tomato slices by dredging first in flour, then in buttermilk/egg mixture, then in bread crumb mixture.
3. Fry tomato slices in canola oil, work in batches. Place cooked slices on paper towel on cookie sheets. keep warm (you can do this ahead and reheat)
4. Saute peppers, onions and garlic. Add chilies and herbs. Add white wine and reduce. Add cream and reduce by half.
5. Add crab to heat through.
6. Layer napoleon with 1 slice tomato, a spoonful of crab, a few leaves of arugula. Start and finish with tomato slice.
7. Garnish each stack with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives