this time of year, it’s tough not to rhapsodize about
something so magical about the plump and juicy red fruits,
and the many wonderful dishes in which it plays a starring
role — soups, sauces, salads, and even pies and tarts.
was brought home to me recently on a visit to my son’s
apartment in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield. While pulling out
weeds in his front yard, I struck up a conversation with a
93-year-old Italian woman who happened by on a walk around
the block with her son. A native of Calabria or maybe
Campania in southern Italy (her lilting accent was as thick
as it was charming) she told me all about the city garden
she’s tended for decades around the corner. Of course it
included tomatoes. "If you’re gonna eat," she
said with a wide, toothless grin, "you have to have
something to cook."
Pittsburgh for you. Total strangers chatting it up on the
Christina and her son left a plastic grocery bag full of
Roma tomatoes on my son’s back porch a half-hour later was
even more Pittsburgh. Slender, firm and the color of a
brand-new firetruck, the unexpected gift was like homegrown,
culinary gold. But what to do with them?
handful ended up in a spicy tomato jam perfumed with cumin
and ginger. The rest went into a most unlikely dish my
editor spied in Cook’s Country: fried red tomatoes.
know. This quintessential Southern dish is usually made with
unripe green tomatoes. Ripe red tomatoes are just too juicy
to coat in cornmeal and be expected to hold together in a
sizzling skillet. Unless you use plum tomatoes, that is,
which are more meaty and less watery than beefsteak,
heirloom or vine-ripened varieties.
Country found a way to coax the excess water out of a plum
tomato’s meaty flesh and get cornmeal to adhere. First,
you let the slices sit on paper towels for 40 minutes. Then
you coat them in a sticky buttermilk-egg mixture before
dipping the tomato into cornmeal mixed with flour, grated
Parmesan and a dash of cayenne.
result is nothing short of spectacular — crunchy, sweet
and so of the season. They’re even terrific reheated the
next day in the oven.
tomatoes, also known as plum tomatoes, are essential for
this recipe; slicing tomatoes, such as beefsteak or ‘Brandywine,’
simply contain too much water to allow them to fry up
crunchy. The original recipe called for granulated garlic,
but I substituted what I had on hand, adobo seasoning. If
you double the recipe, be sure to wipe out the skillet
between batches. A squeeze of lemon brightens the flavor.
ounces plum tomatoes, ends trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
teaspoon adobo seasoning
cup all-purpose flour
cup Parmesan cheese, grated
teaspoon black pepper
teaspoon cayenne pepper
cup vegetable oil
tablespoons minced fresh basil
slices, for serving
wire rack with paper towels. Evenly space tomato slices on
rack, sprinkle with adobo seasoning and let drain for 40
minutes, flipping halfway through draining.
rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Whisk buttermilk and egg
together in shallow dish. Combine cornmeal, flour, Parmesan
cheese, salt, pepper and cayenne in second shallow dish.
pat tops of tomatoes with paper towels to remove any
accumulated liquid. Dip tomato slices in buttermilk mixture,
then dredge in cornmeal mixture, pressing firmly to adhere;
transfer to prepared sheet.
oil in 12-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat until just
smoking. Add all tomatoes slices to skillet and fry until
golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to platter
and sprinkle with basil. Serve with lemon wedges.
Adapted from Cook’s Country (June/July 2016)