published Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A summer staple: fried green tomatoes

While waiting for your next homegrown tomatoes to ripen, you might be tempted to pick a few green ones. Lately, I've had a craving for fried green tomatoes.

Creative chefs are doing more than serving them fried as a side dish. You can find them on burgers and in salads, just for starters.

If you've been to brunch at Broad Street Grille, you may have tried the eggs Benedict. Rather than an English-muffin base, chef Andrew Millsap has come up with a cleverly delicious substitute. You guessed it: a fried green tomato. It's scrumptious.

In The Foundry bar, you can order a fried green tomato appetizer with locally made sausage from Link 41, homemade pimento cheese and pickled radish. Sounds amazing.

If you're traveling this summer, here are other suggestions.

• Southend Brewery & Smokehouse in Charleston, S.C., has a fried green tomato appetizer with smoked vegetable ratatouille, goat cheese and reduced balsamic vinegar.

• Rico's World Kitchen in Buford, Ga., voted Atlanta's Best Place for Fried Green Tomatoes last year, serves a fried green tomato sandwich on baked bread with a layer of apricot preserves, homemade pimento cheese and chopped Applewood smoked bacon. This sandwich is one of the weekly specials, but not a day goes by that there isn't some delectable fried green tomato dish on the menu.

• Foster's Market in Durham, N.C., makes a breakfast sandwich that stacks fried green tomatoes, country ham, poached egg and crab hollandaise on an English muffin. If you can't make the drive to Durham, here's one of the house specialties created by chef and cookbook author Sara Foster.

Fried Green Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad

2 large ripe beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Canola oil for frying (about 1/2 cup)

4 large green tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/2 pint grape or small heirloom tomatoes (such as Sungolds or Sweet 100s), halved lengthwise

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Sweet Basil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Heat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Arrange the ripe tomato slices in one layer on a large platter or on individual plates. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir the flour, cornmeal, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.

Whisk the egg and buttermilk together in a separate small bowl.

Pour enough oil in a large skillet to fill to 1/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to about 375 F, or until the oil sizzles when you drop a small amount of flour into the skillet.

Dip a green tomato slice in the egg/buttermilk mixture to coat both sides, dredge it in the flour mixture to coat both sides, and place it in the hot oil. Repeat with enough tomato slices to fill the skillet without crowding and fry until the undersides are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and fry the other side to golden brown. Use tongs or a slotted spatula to transfer the fried tomato slices to the prepared baking sheet to drain; place the sheet in the oven while you fry the remaining green tomatoes.

Arrange the fried tomato slices on top of the fresh tomato slices. Scatter the small tomatoes over the slices, and sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and top with the basil strips. Season with additional salt and pepper, and add more vinaigrette to taste. Serve immediately.

Sweet Basil Vinaigrette

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Juice of 1 lime

5 to 7 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk the vinegar, lime juice, basil, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking until all the oil is incorporated. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup.

Need some help canning your summer produce? The Ball company, maker of canning jars, will host its second annual National Can-It-Forward Day on Saturday. Home cooks nationwide can participate in a live webcast of canning demos where viewer questions will be answered in real time. Log onto www.FreshPreserving.com for more information.

Local Chick-fil-A restaurants will be treating you to a free meal on Friday -- that is, if you're dressed as a cow from head to hoof. Log onto CowAppreciationDay.com for ideas. They've even included a cow costume starter kit.

New on the market ... I've never been a big fan of frozen pizza, but a new Red Baron pan pizza has changed my mind.

The dough was thick, soft and flavorful, and every bite was filled with melting cheese and tomato sauce.

I doctored it up with chopped onions, and, after it baked, I sprinkled it with crushed red peppers.

Red Baron has done an excellent job of re-creating the frozen pizza. It even comes with its own baking pan since deep-dish pizzas need a deep pan.

If the new hand-tossed frozen pizza is just as good, I'd say Red Baron has cornered the market.

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