FRONT BURNER: Fried tomatoes — green or ripe — are a summer favorite

Fried Red Tomatoes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Fried Red Tomatoes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I have a lovely little backyard garden this summer with mint, marigolds, coneflowers, two kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers and some tomatillos. The tiny plot is set up on a slightly raised platform in repurposed pots — deep drawers from a built-in linen closet we removed from our bathroom, halved wine and whiskey barrels, a clay pot I failed to return to a friend. Our biggest challenge, so far (knock on wood), has been keeping the flourishing plants safe from our very curious, very large dogs.

But I must confess, I'm a greedy gardener. Despite plants heavy with green fruit, I've been buying green tomatoes because I'm not willing to sacrifice any of my own.

Whether they're green or ripe, one of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is dipped in buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal and pan-fried.

Fried Green Tomatoes

1 egg

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup all-purpose flour, divided use

½ cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste

3 or 4 green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch slices

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a shallow dish, whisk together the egg and buttermilk; set aside.

Combine ¼ cup of the all-purpose flour, all of the cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper to taste in a shallow bowl or pan.

Place the remaining flour on a plate or in a shallow bowl.

Dredge tomato slices first in plain flour; then dip in egg-buttermilk mixture, and then dredge in cornmeal mixture. Shake off excess.

Transfer coated slices to a paper-towel-lined wire rack.

Fill a large skillet with ¼ to ½ inch of vegetable oil. Heat to about 375 degrees. Cook tomatoes, in batches, in hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve with Jalapeno Ranch (recipe follows), if desired.

Makes about 4 servings.

Jalapeno Ranch

1 cup sour cream OR 1 cup mayonnaise OR a combination

4 tablespoons ranch dressing mix (can substitute 1-ounce envelope ranch mix)

1 clove garlic, peeled

½ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems

1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded

1 cup buttermilk

Lime juice

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except lime juice. Process in short bursts until smooth.

Season to taste with lime juice. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

Fried Red Tomatoes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Fried Red Tomatoes (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

If you're lucky enough to have ripe tomatoes already, this recipe is a must-try.

Fried Red Tomatoes

4 plum or Roma tomatoes, ends trimmed, sliced about ¼-inch thick

¼ to ½ teaspoon garlic powder (do not use garlic salt)

5 tablespoons buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

¾ cup cornmeal

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used a Microplane)

Salt and ground black pepper

A few pinches ground red pepper (cayenne)

½ cup vegetable oil

Line two wire racks with paper towels. Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a single layer on one of the racks. Set the remaining rack aside. Sprinkle the tomatoes with garlic powder. Let stand for 40 minutes, flipping the tomatoes after 20 minutes.

In a shallow dish, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and milk.

In a separate shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, flour, cheese, a generous pinch of salt and black pepper and the cayenne. Mix well.

Lightly blot the tops of the tomatoes to remove any liquid that has accumulated. Dip each slice into the buttermilk mixture, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture, making sure to thoroughly coat the slices with cornmeal.

Transfer coated slices to the other paper-towel-lined wire rack. Replace the paper towels on the first rack used.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add tomato slices, as many as will comfortably fit in a single layer. Fry 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown, flip and cook 1 to 2 minutes more or until browned. Drain on paper-towel-lined rack. Repeat with the remaining slices. Serve hot.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Recipe adapted from "Cook's Country"

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