So I was extraordinarily delighted — and surprised — when I finally came across a few small handfuls of green heirloom tomatoes sitting in a basket at a small store where I ordinarily pick up my dairy and dried goods. It was a matter of seconds for me to grab them up, and just half-a-day later for fried green tomatoes to appear on my breakfast plate.
Green tomatoes have a full, sweet but less acidic tomato taste with a smooth texture — one could say almost oily, but in a good way — that makes the fruit almost slide down your mouth. There are plenty of ways to coat and fry green tomatoes — in cornmeal, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or flour, with or without beaten eggs — but a simple variation on the traditional salt, pepper and cornmeal method with a little added cayenne for spice seemed to me to be a proper way to go for my first taste. Of course, the green tomatoes are traditionally fried in bacon grease too — and while I won't deny the comfort food pleasures of bacon for meat-eaters, something a little different in the flavour department was required for vegetarians, and I decided to melt a little sharp aged cheddar cheese on top instead.
Warm, soft and sweet on the inside, crisp and a little spicy on the outside, and with the mild salty palette of melted old cheddar on top … these fried green tomatoes are a small simple pleasure and definitely deserve the comfort food label. Green tomatoes are not absolutely necessary, and I'll be making these again with whatever variety I have on hand, but be sure to use firm and just ripened tomatoes.
Fried green tomatoes and old cheddar
1 pound firm green tomatoes
1/3 cup fine cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup aged cheddar cheese, grated
paprika or cayenne for garnish
Finely slice the tops and bottoms off the tomatoes, and slice the rest into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Pour the cornmeal on to a dinner plate and mix in the salt, pepper and cayenne evenly with a fork. Dredge the tomato slices through the cornmeal mixture, pressing lightly on each side to form a thick even coating.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan and preheat the broiler. Add the tomato slices to the pan and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until the cornmeal is browned.
Remove the tomato slices to a baking sheet and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and a few pinches of paprika or cayenne. Place under the broiler just long enough for the cheese to melt.
Let cook for a few minutes before serving.