Green tomatoes are ripe with possibility
Renee Studebaker, Renee's Roots
I can hardly believe that I just counted almost 70 big, plump green tomatoes in my front and backyard gardens, not to mention dozens of soon-to-ripen salad-sized varieties, plus 30 or so brand-new babies that popped out in response to the recent rain.
At this rate, I could end up with almost 200 tomatoes this season.
How did this happen? Where have all the tomato-stealing squirrels gone? Where are the hornworms and the leaf-footed bugs? The spider mites?
Did I finally do everything right? (Not likely.) Or has climate change created a cosmic growing zone (anti-worm hole?) on my street where all of nature now resides in perfect balance? (Hmm, I wish.) Or maybe a large, feathered-garden protector has taken up residency in my bur oak tree. (Doctor Whooo?)
Whatever's going on, I like it. And I also like how it simplifies menu planning for Memorial Day. We're having tomatoes. Mostly green ones. Some grilled, some roasted and some lightly charred and chopped into a chimichurri to serve on grilled pork chops.
Come to think of it, sharing my favorite food with a few of my favorite people seems like exactly the right thing to do for a Memorial Day gathering.
It will be a celebration of a bountiful life and a nod to all the American soldiers over the years who made it possible.
I don't ordinarily pick and cook green tomatoes so early in the season. But with this spring's abundant fruit set, I should have more than enough big ripe tomatoes to enjoy and give away over the next few weeks, assuming, of course, the squirrels don't start carting them off in wagons.
In the meantime, I'm having fun exploring the complexities of the star of the summer vegetable garden in its unripened state. Yes, I know how sinfully good fried green tomatoes can be, but now that I've tasted the deep and smoky citrus notes of grilled and roasted green tomatoes, I'll definitely be setting out extra plants again next season.
Grilled Green Tomato Salad With Hill Country Peaches and Goat Cheese
3 large green (unripe) tomatoes
2 or 3 ripe but firm Hill Country peaches (this early in the season, freestone peaches might be scarce, but the cling peaches taste just as good), peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch wedges
1 small or medium purple onion, peeled, halved and sliced in 1/2-inch wedges
Fresh ground pepper
3 cups spicy arugula leaves, washed and drained (or Bibb lettuce leaves, if you prefer)
6 Tbsps. goat cheese
3 tsp. freshly minced garlic
Pecan or mesquite wood chips (water-soaked), optional
Maple Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 cup sunflower sprouts, washed and drained
4-6 slices of good quality bacon or pork belly, cooked crisp and drained (optional, but really tasty)
Slice tomatoes in half. Drizzle cut side with olive oil and dot each with 1/2 tsp. garlic. Season with sea salt and pepper and set aside. Prepare vinaigrette (below) and refrigerate. Place tomato halves on grill over medium-high heat, cut side up, and cook for a few minutes until skins start to brown. Then place tomatoes on grill tray and move to indirect heat, close grill cover, add wood chips if using, and continue cooking until tomatoes are lightly caramelized and soft.
Drizzle peach and onion slices with oil, place on another grill tray, and grill for a minute or two on each side, until tender and lightly charred.
To serve salads, divide arugula evenly on salad plates, then top each with a tomato half, a couple of peach and onion slices, 1 Tbsp. of cheese, and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Garnish with sunflower sprouts and bacon for an extra contrasting layer of flavor and crunch.
2 Tbsp. maple syrup (or to taste)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
Mix first 5 ingredients in a bowl and then whisk in oil. Can be made a couple of hours ahead and refrigerated.
Note: If you're not cranking up the grill this holiday weekend, you can still make an excellent version of this salad using a stove-top grill pan and your oven. Place prepared tomato halves cut side up on a baking sheet and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour in a 350-degree oven, or until tomatoes and garlic bits are lightly caramelized and the tomato flesh is soft and slightly collapsed. When tomatoes are close to being done, brown peach and onion slices in grill pan over medium heat and make salad as above.
Cautionary note: These garlicky roasted green tomatoes are so good that you might want to have extra tomatoes on hand. While I was working on this recipe one night, I found it hard to resist nibbling on the tomatoes while the peaches and onions were cooking. Finally I just gave in and sat down and ate a whole plate of roasted green tomatoes with a little dab of goat cheese on the side. With a glass of crisp, fruity white wine, it was a lovely impromptu dinner for a hungry cook.
Variations: Top salad with grilled shrimp or bits of pulled pork. For a spicier bite, add hot pepper flakes or chopped chile pepper to the vinaigrette.
— Renee Studebaker
Green Tomato Chimichurri
This is a great topping for grilled steaks, pork or fish. The original recipe called for hot pepper flakes, but I like it better with finely chopped serrano pepper. Alter the heat to your liking. If you enjoy playing around with different flavor combinations, try adding freshly chopped sorrel leaves or Swiss chard, or even the tender young leaves of salad burnet.
5 medium green tomatoes (sliced 1/2-inch thick)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/2 cup
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
2 Tbsps. finely chopped red onion
2 Tbsps. white vine vinegar
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh serrano pepper
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Brush tomato slices with 1 Tbsp. oil and cook over medium-high heat on grill or stove-top grill pan until well charred on each side — about 2 minutes per side. Allow tomatoes to cool slightly, then chop coarsely and place in a medium bowl. Stir in remaining olive oil, cilantro, parsley, onion, vinegar, pepper, garlic, salt and black pepper.
— Adapted from ‘Fresh From the Market: Seasonal Cooking With Laurent Tourondel and Charlotte March' (Wiley, $35)