Green goodness




Last weekend I was in Hattiesburg for a Diocesan Council meeting (Episcopal). On Friday, Terry and I spent part of the day driving around exploring. I have only stopped in Hattiesburg to drop off furniture to our son and daughter-in-law, never long enough to see what''s what. Other than the traffic situation (awful), the town is really lovely with a cool area downtown being developed with lofts and restaurants.


We hopped out of the car at one point to browse in a natural foods store we had heard of. Walking toward the little shop we passed an empty storefront with a round wooden sign leaning in the window. In hand-painted letters it said "Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon." I thought about that sign all day, each time smiling as I remembered it. It seemed to me to be someone''s feeling about perfection; maybe it was their idea of the Promised Land. I wasn''t to be persuaded any differently even after Terry hesitantly told me he thought it was an advertisement for a band coming to town. No way!


Which came first -- the green unripe tomato or the red ripe one? Hard to know whether our ancestors were enjoying crunchy tart green tomatoes until someone mistakenly left one on the vine too long and they discovered the joy of a ripe tomato. Or perhaps the person in charge of the kitchen was in a hurry and simply picked a tomato before it''s prime. Either way I''m glad these early eaters were taste-savvy enough to appreciate the deliciousness of a green tomato.



So, as we eagerly wait for the Hitching Lot to open (April 25) and red tomato season to begin, this is a good time to fry up thick slices of green goodness. I say "fry" even though I am aware of other uses for the green tomato: green tomato pie, green tomato chutney, green tomato rice, pickled green tomatoes and so on. But, fried is the best of all. Now, I have discovered some interesting things to do with fried green tomatoes, so I''ll just pass some of them on to you and hopefully you''ll read something to spark your own creativity.



Tasty options


I have a jar of Frances Ellis'' (Mayhew Tomato Farm) Purple Pea Salsa, which I love. I think that the sweet, sour, slightly hot flavor of this would be fabulous on some fried green tomatoes.


At my store in Athens, Ga., I used to take thick slices of fried green tomatoes and layer them with round, thick slices of fried grits and top it off with a roasted red pepper sauce. Very yummy, and a delicious vegetarian entrée. I also like fried green tomatoes on top of a simple salad, preferably made with peppery arugula and simply dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper, or a more rich version with homemade ranch dressing. Oh, and a fried green tomato BLT is heavenly. (Huck''s has one on their menu.)



Not up to par


We ended our weekend in Hattiesburg taking our son and his wife to a well-known restaurant for brunch. I was a little disappointed in the menu, finding it slightly stuffy in style and weak in brunch items. I went with the fried green tomatoes with sautéed shrimp and orzo. I hate to constantly be a restaurant critic, but I can''t help myself. The tomatoes were so thin they had just about disappeared, leaving only crust. I mean they were so thin it was as if they were shaved. The orzo on top (orzo is a rice-shaped pasta), was weighted down with a too-thick pesto cream sauce, too thick and too much of it. It was all gloppy and gooey.


What I was craving was a couple of slices -- thick slices -- of fried green tomato topped off with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Now that''s a good brunch item. I''m not surprised that I found a Paula Deen recipe for this where she simply topped fried green tomatoes with bacon slices, a poached egg and lemony hollandaise sauce.


So, as we enjoy this beautiful weather of 70-degree days, knowing that 40-degree days are still lurking in the background, find yourself a green tomato, slice it up, fry it up and eat it up.


The first recipe included is very basic and made all the better with the use of bacon fat. The second is my favorite way to cook them. The third, which uses eggs and self-rising flour, sounds very good and certainly company-worthy.



Fried Green Tomatoes


4 large green tomatoes


1/2 cup cornmeal


3 teaspoons salt


1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Bacon fat


n Slice the tomatoes 1/4-inch thick. Mix the cornmeal with the salt and pepper. Dip each slice into the seasoned meal mixture. Place the seasoned vegetable in a heavy skillet containing melted bacon fat.


n Fry slowly until brown, turning once.


(Source: "Bayou Cuisine," St, Stephen''s Episcopal Church, Indianola)




Fried Green Tomatoes


1 cup cornmeal


1 cup flour


1 tablespoon garlic powder


Pinch cayenne


1 1/2 cups buttermilk


Salt and pepper


4 tomatoes, ends removed, sliced 1/2" thick


1/2 cup vegetable oil


1 tablespoon butter


n Mix the cornmeal, flour, garlic powder and cayenne together in a shallow bowl. Mix the buttermilk with the salt and pepper in another bowl. Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk and then dredge them in the cornmeal mixture coating them well.


n Heat a heavy iron skillet over medium heat and coat with the oil. Pan-fry the tomatoes until golden on each side (try and turn them only once). Drain on paper towel when browned.


(Source: Tyler Florence, Food Network)



Fried Green Tomatoes ala Early Girl


3 green tomatoes


2 cups flour


1 tablespoon salt


1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


2 eggs


1/4 cup milk


3 cups bread crumbs


1/4 cup grated Parmesan


2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley


Zest of one orange


Vegetable oil for frying


n Remove core, trim ends and slice the tomatoes about 1/2" thick. Spread out on rack and allow to stand for 15-20 minutes.


n In a wide bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. In a second bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. In a third bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley and orange zest.


n Heat about half an inch of oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking.


n Dredge tomato slices first in the flour mixture, then in the egg wash, then in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides well. Fry in small batches (don''t crowd), turning once until golden brown on both sides. Return to rack to drain.


(Source: "In Praise of Tomatoes" by Ronni Lundy. The Early Girl Eatery is in Asheville, N.C.)



Anne Freeze, a self-professed foodie, was a restaurant general manager and owner of a gourmet food store before moving to Columbus. She is a volunteer for The Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market in Columbus. She can be reached at [email protected]




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