Fresh local tomatoes hit their peak until August – and that’s when I get happy. The tomato is absolutely my favorite vegetable (even if it’s technically a berry). This crispy tomato salad combines cooked tomatoes and raw tomatoes, the large guys and the small guys. You can call it a medley but I think of it as a party.

This recipe is my take on Fried Green Tomatoes, a classic of Southern cuisine. The standard recipe features unripe tomatoes coated in cornmeal and deep-fried. Here we’re working with ripe tomatoes, not green ones, and sauteing them, not frying them. How ripe is ripe? Not so ripe that they’ve gone soft. You want them to be firm. The ripe ones hold together better when cooked.

The salad is finished with a simple buttermilk dressing made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic and fresh herbs.

CRISPY TOMATO SALAD WITH BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING

Servings: 4

FOR THE DRESSING:

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, chives and parsley)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Kosher salt and black pepper

FOR THE CRISPY TOMATOES AND SALAD:

Two firm ripe beefsteak tomatoes (10-12 ounces each)

2 cups assorted cherry tomatoes, halved

Kosher salt

1 large egg

2/3 cup buttermilk

3/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

MAKE THE DRESSING: In a medium bowl whisk together all the ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.

MAKE THE CRISPY TOMATOES: Slice the beefsteak tomatoes crosswise, 1/3-inch thick. (You should get 4 slices from each tomato.) Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt and let drain on a cake rack for at least 20 minutes. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Place in a bowl and sprinkle them with salt. Let them stand for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl or pie plate beat the egg; add the buttermilk and whisk until combined well. In a separate shallow bowl stir together the cornmeal, flour, cheese and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Pat the large tomatoes dry with paper towels. Coat half of them with the buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip off and then dip them in the cornmeal mixture making sure they are coated all over. In a large nonstick skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the coated tomatoes and cook them until golden, about 2 minutes a side. Transfer 2 slices to each of two plates. Repeat the procedure with the remaining tomato slices, buttermilk mixture, cornmeal and oil and transfer those slices to two more plates. Spread the cherry tomatoes on paper towels and quickly pat dry. Mound one-fourth of the cherry tomatoes on top of each portion and drizzle with the buttermilk dressing.

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