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Passion for food: All systems go for green tomato season

Passion for food: Sherrel Jones shares ideas for how to use your green tomatoes besides frying them.
BY SHERREL JONES Published: September 25, 2013

I love fried green tomatoes, but with a garden full of them, we can't fry them all and stay dedicated to eating healthy.

Green tomatoes battered with cornmeal and flour and fried in fat produces a unique flavor that is hard to capture any other way. This summer, with 16 tomato plants in nine varieties, I decided to experiment with ways to enjoy the greenish tomatoes before our local critter population could get them.

Chowchow or green-tomato relish makes practical use of the fruit of the vine, but it doesn't come close to the fried version.

I categorize any stage of partially ripened tomatoes as green. Tomatoes ranging from green and yellow to orange or pinkish orange are quite good when selected for baking or taken inside to finish getting ripe.

I halved the tomatoes, then sliced across the stem and blossom ends so the tomato would sit flat for baking and serving. This technique works great for any tomato, especially when your tomato crop reaches a daily production level that calls for a quick dump into a prepared casserole dish and 20 or so minutes in the oven.

But if you're not overflowing with tomatoes, consider taking a little extra time to step up the flavor.

Back before I learned about panko crumbs, I combined regular breadcrumbs with some Italian seasoning, minced onion, salt and pepper, a small amount of butter and Parmesan cheese to make a topping for baking tomatoes. I now use olive oil instead of the butter, exclude the Parmesan and use panko instead of regular breadcrumbs.

I like to mix my homemade crumb mixture with fresh pesto and stir a few heaping tablespoons over a mixing bowl full of quartered and halved tomatoes, salt the contents and carefully stir until the tomatoes are thoroughly dressed. You can also add sliced onions to liven things up.

Transfer this mixture to a prepared casserole dish and bake in a 350-degree oven and bake until the tomatoes soften and the crumbs begin to brown. Don't worry about having uniformly ripe tomatoes; the variety makes the finished dish that much more complex.

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Un-fried Green Tomatoes

Cooking spray

2 or 3 medium to large green tomatoes makes 2 servings (These can be in any form of preripeness, from green to yellow, pink or orange)

Kosher salt

½ cup panko, divided (1/3 cup for topping)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon basil pesto

Adjust oven rack to upper middle. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare baking dish with cooking spray.

Prepare tomatoes: Wash, remove blossom and stem ends and slice in half so tomatoes will rest firmly in baking dish. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Prepare crumbs: Mix 1/3 cup of the panko with the olive oil and pesto.

Assemble: Sprinkle remaining panko in prepared baking dish. Place prepared tomato halves in baking dish, spacing them 1 inch apart. Top with crumb mixture.

Bake for 35 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size and thickness of tomatoes.

Cooking notes: If you don't have pesto, omit salt and use 2 tablespoons of olive oil with ¾ teaspoon Italian seasoning and ½ teaspoon of garlic salt with the panko. Salt-restricted diet? Use garlic powder in lieu of garlic salt.

SOURCE: Sherrel Jones


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