`Fried Green Tomatoes'': You saw the movie, now eat the lunch. It's that season. Days are shorter, nights are cooler, and green tomatoes are everywhere. Come late September, early October, and they're littering vegetable gardens the way canoe-sized zucchinis do in mid- August.
Perhaps no summer vegetable is more anticipated or gathered more enthusiastically by home gardeners than mature sun-reddened, vine-ripened tomatoes. Whoever would pass a ripened tomato by? Or have trouble finding a place for it in any meal? Quite remarkable considering that only 150 years ago this native fruit of the Americas was thought to be as digestible as a cup of hemlock.
It was a farmer from New Jersey who is credited with eating a tomato in front of horrified friends and neighbors to prove you could not only eat one, but also live to tell about it.
Tomatoes, as we know, caught on with gusto. But today green tomatoes are still kept at arm's length, too often destined to the compost pile at best, or worse, to drop to the ground unnoticed, there to mold away in ignominious rot.
How disgraceful. How wasteful. How unnecessary. Green tomatoes are delicious fried, broiled, and as a valuable ingredient in a number of relishes, sauces, and even jams. They're a fine addition chopped and added to red-tomato pasta sauces and mixed-vegetable soups, as well as to a stir-fry.
Green tomatoes come in two types: Mature ones that are perfect for broiling and frying, and the small immature ones that are best used in pickling and in relishes.
Mature green tomatoes may be allowed to ripen nicely if placed in a perforated brown paper bag along with an apple, and set in a cool place - about 65 to 70 degrees F. If allowed to ripen on a sunny window sill, they are apt to turn pithy and ripen unevenly.
So ripen some if you wish. There should still be plenty left for the following recipes.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1)
3 tablespoons butter, bacon fat, or vegetable oil
4 firm medium to large green tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream (optional)
Heat butter, bacon fat, or oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cut tomatoes into 3/4-inch thick slices. (Do not peel.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and fry 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Sprinkle each side with a little sugar halfway through cooking. Serve at once, topped with a dollop of sour cream if desired.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (2)
This recipe is a bit more complicated but well worth the extra time and effort. It is, in my opinion, even better than the movie.
3 large green tomatoes
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 cup V-8 or tomato juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
4 tablespoons butter (or more)
Chopped chives and/or parsley for garnish
Grated Parmesan cheese
Cut tomatoes in 1/2-inch slices. Combine egg, cream, juice, and Tabasco in a bowl, and beat lightly. Mix bread crumbs, allspice, and pepper in a separate bowl.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Dip tomato slices in egg mixture, then in bread crumbs. Fry until golden (about 4 minutes on each side). Sprinkle with chive/parsley mixture and a little grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.
SWEET GREEN TOMATO AND CORN PICCALILLI
This recipe is adapted from Chris Schlessinger and John Willoughby's cookbook, ``Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows`` (Morrow, 1990, $20.):
5 green tomatoes about the size of baseballs, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups sugar
8 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kernels from 3 ears of uncooked corn
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 large red onion, diced
Rub tomato slices with salt. Place in covered dish and refrigerate about 8 hours, or overnight. Squeeze tomato slices between layers of cheesecloth to remove excess moisture. Set aside.
Combine vinegar, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in tomatoes and remaining ingredients.
Piccalilli will keep, covered and refrigerated, several weeks.
3 cups cored and chopped green tomatoes
2 cups sugar
1 6-ounce package raspberry (or strawberry) Jell-O
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into jars and refrigerate, or freeze for later use. Makes about 6 cups.