Georgia Cooks: Tomatoes
Would you like tomatoes with that?
If you answered yes, you are pleasing your taste buds and doing the rest of your body a favor. Tomatoes deliver minerals, vitamins and antioxidant components that keep us healthy.
Tomatoes look good, taste good and are good for you. It is no wonder that you see large fields of tomato plants in Georgia (we’re among the top tomato-producing states) as well as tomato plants staked amid the flowerbeds of mansions in our toniest neighborhoods. Many people just have to grow their own to pluck at the peak of ripeness to serve a few minutes later alongside fresh Georgia Grown vegetables or in a sandwich or biscuit.
There are a hundred ways to use tomatoes and a hundred thousand recipes giving detailed instructions for gazpachos, hot soups, stews, aspics, salads, sandwiches, sauces, salsas, pickles, relishes, omelets, pies and even ice creams in which tomatoes are a main ingredient. Here are a few suggestions:
A side dish of fresh tomatoes doesn’t need a recipe. Just slice them and arrange them on a plate. However, many cooks may not realize that there are options beyond the familiar red tomato. There are tomatoes that are orange, yellow, yellowish green, white (ivory) and pink (pinkish red) when ripe. Some like ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ get their names because they are so much darker than standard red tomatoes. Some varieties are yellow or orange and marbled with red. It is possible to get a mental picture of the color possibilities by looking at the names of some of these less familiar varieties: ‘Big Rainbow,’ ‘Georgia Streak,’ ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Green Grape,’ ‘Chocolate Stripe,’ ‘Emerald Apple,’ ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘White Wonder,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Violet Jasper,’ ‘Persimmon,’ ‘Black Prince,’ ‘Carbon’ and ‘Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge.’ You may see some of these at grocery stores but you are more likely to see them at farmers markets, as many small farmers are growing these specialty and heirloom varieties. If you want something different, try some of these on your dinner table.
The basic tomato sandwich consists of tomatoes and mayonnaise on bread with salt and pepper to taste. The bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich has become so popular that it is known simply as the BLT. Crispy pre-cooked bacon strips make the BLT easier to prepare than ever before – and don’t require heating up the kitchen on a hot summer day. A tomato-Vidalia onion sandwich can be served straight up or adorned with bacon or ham along with lettuce. Include a few slices of tomato when making a grilled cheese sandwich. Shred the cheese or use thinly sliced cheese to facilitate melting. Add the tomato prior to grilling. If the tomato is too juicy, drain it on a paper towel beforehand. Add a slice of tomato to a toasted cheese sandwich after it is toasted. And a Dagwood has everything else on it; why not a few slices of tomato as well?
Put some chèvre or fresh mozzarella on a soda cracker and a halved cherry tomato on top. Stick toothpicks in cherry or currant tomatoes and place them next to your favorite dip. Bruschetta is a simple and tasty appetizer that requires only good crusty bread, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.
Top It Off
Sprinkle chopped tomatoes over pasta with pesto sauce. Don’t forget to use thin slices of tomatoes as a topping when making homemade pizza or even re-heating store-bought pizza. Guacamole is enhanced with diced tomatoes. A grilled hamburger is not the same without a juicy tomato. And there is no law against a spoonful of diced tomato on a hot dog.
Tomatoes at Breakfast
Use tomatoes at breakfast as a side dish to grits and eggs. Try a slice of tomato on buttered toast. Add sautéed tomatoes to almost any omelet. Java Jive restaurant in Atlanta is well-known for its selections of omelets. Two of its most popular are a Greek omelet of tomato, spinach and feta cheese and a Mexicali omelet of black beans, tomato, onion, pepperjack cheese and cilantro.
Rainbow Tomato Salad
Combine halved yellow pear tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, ‘Green Grape’ tomatoes and orange cherry tomatoes such as ‘Sungold’ with slices or chunks of ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Green Zebra’ tomatoes. Sprinkle with a little salt, olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Garnish with a sprig of basil. For a more substantial dish add cubes of fresh mozzarella or serve the salad with ripe avocado.
Other Salad Ideas
There isn’t a green salad, be it iceberg lettuce, spinach, arugula or mixed greens, or salad dressing – blue cheese, Italian, French, Thousand Island, vinaigrette, whatever – that doesn’t go with tomatoes. For extra tomato flavor throughout your salad, blend finely chopped or pureed tomato into your oil & vinegar dressing. Topping a salad with a fried green tomato and a small dollop of mayonnaise is a way to add a new dimension of flavor and texture.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes gained national recognition with Fannie Flagg’s bestseller Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and the subsequent blockbuster movie. The dish remains a favorite in kitchens and in down-home eateries across the South, but it is also popping up in fancy restaurants with adornments such as buffalo mozzarella.
Every cook who grew up with this delicacy has his or her own way of frying green tomatoes. Most recipes call for an egg or egg and milk wash and a coating of flour or flour and corn meal. Kevin Clark of Home Grown GA restaurant in Atlanta recommends keeping the slices thick – about ¼ inch – and sprinkling salt on the slices about 10 minutes before frying to help draw out some of the moisture. For a crunchy coating he uses panko bread crumbs. Kevin serves them with a mild horseradish sauce for dipping although they are delicious with no accompaniment at all.
During the peak of tomato season, many people put up tomatoes for later use in sauces and other dishes. You can learn how to can tomatoes (and preserve other foods) at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s website, or you can contact your county Extension office for information.
Georgia Grown Herbed Tomatoes
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