Portland Press Herald Writer Kelley Bouchard

This time of year, among the stacks of overgrown zucchinis and other late garden bounty, many backyard farmers have too many green tomatoes that have little hope of ever turning red.

Dedicated cooks might “use up” a dozen or so making fried green tomatoes, forming a mini production line and dredging the firm rounds in layers of flour or corn starch, beaten eggs and seasoned crumbs. Crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, the results make a great side dish for grilled steak or baked meat loaf. They also can be used to build a delicious sandwich or a variation of eggplant Parmesan.

Those who aren’t intimidated by canning might “put up” a batch of onion-laced green tomato pickles, a tangy sweet concoction that goes well beside baked beans or on burgers. These pickles are also known as piccalilli or chow chow, depending on where you live and exactly what ingredients you use.

But what do you do once you’ve tried other options, say cilantro-laced salsa verde, or sweeter things, such as green tomato bread or green tomato pie, yet you still have some of the unripe fruit on hand?

In recent years, I’ve found that beef or venison stew is a tasty way to put a few green tomatoes to good use. It’s not such a stretch for a savory meat stew, since many recipes call for canned tomatoes or tomato paste as a way to boost the flavor.

The meat stews my mom made when I was growing up didn’t include tomatoes, but her mother made a wash-day stew during the Great Depression and World War II that did. My grandmother would combine a pound of meat with chopped onion, canned peas and stewed tomatoes, either from my grandfather’s garden or from the grocery store. She’d let the mixture simmer all day in the oven while the kitchen stove heated water for the mint-green enamel clothes washer that she rolled in from the shed.

I was in my late 20s when I made venison stew for the first time with deer meat given to me by a hunter friend. To thank him, I saved a bowlful so he could test the results. He said it was good, but he suggested it would have been better with some tomato in the mix to offset starchy and sweet vegetables such as potato, turnip and carrot. He’s not a gourmet cook by any stretch, but he was talking about the balance of flavors now commonly known to include salty, sweet, sour, bitter and meaty umami.

In beef or venison stew, one or two chopped green tomatoes disappear into the broth, lending gentle acidity and boosting savory aspects of meatier flavors in this traditional comfort food. Careful not to add too much. A cup or two – depending on how much stew you’re making – will augment flavors without making the broth unpleasantly tangy. Add green tomatoes to your favorite recipe or follow the one here.

Portland Press Herald Writer Kelley Bouchard

GREEN TOMATO-BEEF STEW

Prep time: 2 hours

Serves: 8

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons butter

Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large white onion, diced

2 pounds stew beef, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

1/4 cup corn starch

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chopped green tomatoes

2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped

1 pound potatoes, diced

4 carrots, sliced

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon ground rosemary

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

1. In a 5-quart nonstick pot, saute mushrooms in butter over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt. Remove to a bowl.

2. In the same pot, saute onions in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove to the bowl with the mushrooms.

3. Place beef and 2 remaining tablespoons olive oil in the same pot. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and all of the corn starch. Saute meat until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes, regularly scraping the bottom of the pot.

4. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Don’t let it burn.

5. Stir in green tomatoes and 2 cups of water, scraping up brown bits. Cover pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.

6. Add celery, carrots, reserved mushrooms and onions, bay leaf, rosemary and 4 additional cups of water. Sprinkle mixture with salt, cover pot, bring to a boil once again, reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour.

7. Add potato, cover and continue to simmer until meat and all vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes more.

8. Remove bay leaf and stir in peas. Whether fresh or frozen, they’re done in a few minutes.

9. Check seasoning, add salt if necessary and serve.

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