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Red? Green? Or Somewhere In Between?

August 2, 2007 By:
Andrew Schloss, JE Feature
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Green tomatoes are best known by what they are not. They aren't ripe. They aren't plush or sun-warmed or pulsing with juice. Most of us have come to accept them as a fact of life, but not a gift of nature. We feel cheated when tomatoes are green, as if we've been stuck with a harvest of pickles.

We can try to ripen them on a window sill or in a closed paper bag, but green tomatoes aren't just red tomatoes waiting to happen. They're lemon-scented and cucumber-crisp. Green tomatoes brighten a salsa and make the freshest-tasting tomato pie. They can be floured and fried, pulverized into gazpacho or sautéed into a quick sauce.

Late summer is the season for green tomatoes. As days get shorter and colder, any unripened fruit left on the vine rapidly loses any chance it had to swell with juice and soften. Some time before the first frost, it becomes imperative to harvest whatever is left and count your blessings.

And if you're anything like our family, you'll consider yourself quite lucky. In recent years, we've become such fans of green tomatoes that we pick half of our crop before they get a chance to ripen, and enjoy fried green tomatoes all summer long.

Fried green tomatoes are a great side dish for grilled chicken or fish, wonderful for brunch with a platter of scrambled eggs and an inexpensive vegetarian main course, scattered with feta cheese and salsa.

Green tomatoes are usually not sold in supermarkets. At this time of year, you'll find them at farm stands and in the garden of anyone who grows tomato plants. If you have a crop, pick them anytime before it frosts. Keep them refrigerated. At room temperature, they will eventually redden and rot.

Although these changes resemble ripening, a green tomato will never become anything but a pale imitation of vine-ripened fruit.

Under refrigeration, green tomatoes will stay fresh for weeks. Unlike ripe tomatoes, they are resistant to bruising, soft spots and blackening.

Don't be concerned if there are pallid red sections in the interior or in the skin of a green tomato. These are the very first signs of ripening, and will not affect the flavor or texture of the fruit. Even after a tomato colors slightly, it will still retain much of the character of the green fruit until it enters the last stages of ripening. For that reason, I often use green-tomato recipes to make the most of pallid winter tomatoes, which, to my palate, are just green tomatoes trying to pass for ripe.

The recipe for fried tomatoes is terrific for a quick dinner. Now, don't be put off by the amount of hot sauce in the mayonnaise. Make sure you use a mild variety, like Durkee Red Hot or Crystal. If all you have are very fiery hot sauces, cut the amount to a small spoonful and add a bit of vinegar.

I also include a recipe for one of the best savory pies you will ever encounter. The tomatoes gain an intense lemony fragrance as they release their juices during baking, and melt into perfect al dente slivers. You can use a refrigerated pastry or one that's homemade, and don't worry about crimping the edges. Just turn the overhang up over the top, blanketing the edges all around and leaving the center open.

Green-Tomato Gazpacho


1/2 large cucumber, peeled
1 lb. green tomatoes, cored and cut up
1-2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 slices white bread, crusts removed and crumbled
21/2 cups ice water
juice and finely chopped zest of 2 limes
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
hot pepper sauce to taste
1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced

Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds from one half and cut into a small dice. Set aside.

Coarsely chop other half of cucumber, and place in the work bowl of a food processor or blender with the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, salt, red bell pepper and bread. Chop finely. Turn into a serving bowl.

Mix in the water, lime zest, lime juice, oil, cilantro and hot-pepper sauce.

Chill thoroughly, for about 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Stir in the reserved diced cucumber and red bell pepper, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Green-Tomato Salsa


1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small clove garlic
4 medium green tomatoes, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1-2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water

Finely chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes and jalapeño in a food processor or blender.

Add the olive oil, cilantro, salt and pepper, and enough water to make a sauce-like consistency.

Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Fried Green Tomatoes With Cajun Mayo


3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup mild hot-pepper sauce
1 Tbsp. ketchup
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
6 medium to large green tomatoes
vegetable oil for frying

In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the ketchup and the hot-pepper sauce. Set aside.

Place flour on a large sheet of wax paper.

Season with cayenne pepper, plenty of salt and ground black pepper. Mix together.

Line a large sheet pan with several layers of paper towel.

Over a high heat, heat 1/4-inch of oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed skillet until the surface of the oil seems to shiver. The amount you use will depend upon the size of your skillet. Reduce the heat to medium.

Coat 8 to 10 tomato slices at a time with flour, gently shaking off any excess.

Fry them in a single layer until well-browned and crisp on both sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Remove with a slotted spatula to the paper towels to drain, and continue until all of the tomatoes have been fried. You can hold already-fried tomatoes in a 250° oven until the rest are done.

Serve with sauce on the side.

Makes 4 entree-sized servings or 8 side servings.

Green-Tomato and Feta Pie


2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
4 green tomatoes, ends removed and thinly sliced
3 Tbsps. flour
1 circle of unbaked pastry
4 oz, feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet.

Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion has softened, about 2 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper, half the cayenne, and the oregano. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, toss the tomatoes with the salt, pepper, remaining cayenne and 2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon, of the flour. Set aside.

Line an 8- or 9-inch pie pan with the pastry, leaving excess pastry overhanging the edge.

Sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons of flour over the bottom of the pastry.

Layer the tomatoes in the pastry-lined pan with the sautéed onion and the feta cheese.

Fold the pastry overhang in over the edges of the filling and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, until pastry is golden-brown.

Rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Makes 6 servings.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

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