Wednesday September 25, 2013 | 04:51 AM

We northerners certainly had to acquire the taste for green tomatoes when the 1994 movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, popularized them so glamorously.

Perhaps as a dish it had curiosity factor, too.  But now it’s a staple on American bistro menus everywhere, being even more popular, if not more evolved than the ubiquitous mac and cheese. 

Green tomatoes at the farmer's market, plentifiul starting now

Essentially a simple dish, the  tomatoes are dipped in buttermilk, coated in cornmeal, fried and usually served with a gravy or cream dressing.

On its own, though, it takes getting used to. They’re very tart, hard and seemingly uneatable. But gussied up in all its guises it attains inimitable taste and texture.

Southerners have a definite penchant for the fruit.  One preparation found throughout the south is green tomato pie, which tastes like no other sweet pie dessert.  Mixed with sugar and apples the tart tomato has real depth of flavor, with the filling caramelizing into an uber sweet jam.

There are plenty of savory uses too.  A green tomato tart similar to a quiche with bacon is a wonderful devise, and another common recipe in the southern regions is to use it in various casserole preparations.

I’ve had it in a curried cream sauce with onions that are baked until it’s bubbly and crusty.  Buttermilk also partners well with the tomato.  Here the  two tart and tangy elements marry well in a casserole fortified with cracker crumbs and baked.  It's a soulful dish with a distinctive zesty tang.

Green tomatoes are at their prime at the beginning of autumn when the weather is too cool for tomatoes to ripen on the vine.  Often you’ll see green tomatoes in the summer, but these are not really the same.  Stick with the fall variety--green, tart, hard and peerless in flavor. 

When choosing green tomatoes at the market avoid buying the small ones because they're too   underdeveloped, and the very large tomatoes are too woody and seedy.  A medium-size green tomato is the best choice for ultimate flavor, firmness and texture. To avoid ripening store the tomatoes in a cool, dark place, or keep refrigerated.

Here are two preparations showing the fruit in fine fettle.

Green tomato pie
This is a country-kitchen type of pie, so don’t worry about the lattice looking perfect..  You can also  affix a top crust instead,  though a lattice helps the juices to caramelize more readily as it bakes.
 
Servings: 8

2 9-inch pie crusts
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes (about 4 small)
1 small tart apple, cored, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Mix together the dry ingredient in a medium size bowl.  Set aside.

Roll out one of the dough disks to fit into a 9-inch pie plate; trim the edges to about 1/2-inch overhang; save the scraps.  Use the other dough for the lattice. 

Slice the tomatoes as thinly as possibe so that they bake well

Sprinkle  half of the flour-sugar mixture in the pastry case.  Add half the tomato slices and dot with butter. Add the apple slices over the tomatoes.   Lay the remaining tomato slices on top.  Sprinkle with apple cider vinegar. Cover with the remaining flour-sugar mixture. 

Tomatoes and apples in the pie shell before the final addition of the flour-sugar mixture

Roll out the second pastry and cut into strips for a lattice top, keeping whatever remains to use as a border around the pie. Affix the strips, criss-cross, to form a basket-weave lattice. Trim the edges, fold under and squeeze together to form a rough border..  Re-roll the remaining pastry and cut into 4 or more strips to use as a border around the pie, pinching together for a decorative edge.  Brush the top with milk and sprinkle sugar over the lattice. 

Put on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, rotate the pan and continue to bake for another 25 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.  Serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream.

Green tomato pie in all its sweet glory

A slice of green tomato pie

Casserole of green tomatoes
There are many variations on this wonderful casserole.  This one is particularly easy to prepare.  It’s a perfect accompaniment to fried or roast chicken with a side of mashed sweet potatoes.

Servings: 6 to 8

4 to 5 medium-size green tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 sleeve Saltines or soda crackers, crushed
1 tablespoon melted butter
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup good quality buttermilk (see Note)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Mix together the tomatoes and onions in a medium-size mixing bowl.  Add the crushed crackers, butter, salt and pepper and mix well.  Add the buttermilk and stir to combine.

Put into a buttered 8-inch square baking pan or similar-sized casserole and bake for 30 minutes; raise the oven heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake another 15 minutes or until the top is nicely brown. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Note: For local buttermilk look for Smiling Hill, available at Whole Foods  or Balfour Farm Dairy, at the Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets in Portland.


 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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