We've waited all year for the moment when those green tomatoes turn to a juicy red. And now that it's here, thoughts of BLTs, fresh green salads with wonderful summer tomatoes and tomato pies run through any tomato lover's head.
But for flavor, give me an heirloom tomato ripened on the vine, its brilliance just beginning and not realized until the first wonderful bite.
Heirloom tomatoes are grown from old-timey varieties, before pesticides and laboratory engineering turned tomatoes into something that tasted like cardboard. Their names are interesting, like German Johnson, Brandywine and Purple Cherokee.
Some won't win any beauty contests, either. A perfectly round, unblemished, evenly red tomato — like those found in cellophaned three-packs in a grocery store — has no flavor at all compared to an heirloom. They're just red. That's all. They have little, if any, taste. Heirloom tomatoes may be misshapen, sometime ropey or in other shapes far from round. Their colors may seem a little strange, too — orange, yellow, purple, pink and even black. What they may lack in beauty, though, they more than make up for in taste. Their flavors are amazing.
Across the South, heirloom tomatoes are coming in fresh from the fields. If you have none growing in your garden this summer, check out your favorite farmers market — plenty abound in the Chattanooga area. I'm constantly amazed at the number of local farmers who have chosen to grow heirloom tomatoes rather than the Big Boy and other standard varieties. It's thanks to these farmers, such as those at Crabtree Farms and all the Chattanooga Market venues across the city, that heirloom tomatoes are becoming more the norm these days.
Here's one delicious way to enjoy them that takes a turn from tradition, too. Most all tomato lovers love a good BLT. This takes it from the bread into a bowl. Perfect for dinner tonight or Sunday brunch this weekend.
Cajun Tomato Bacon Bowl
Cajun remoulade sauce:
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup spicy mustard (such as Zatarain's Creole mustard)
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon pickle juice or pickle relish (sweet or dill)
1 teaspoon hot sauce (preferably Tabasco)
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons finely minced celery
1 cup dry white rice
2 garlic cloves, grated
8 slices bacon (see note)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound baby spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe tomato (preferably heirloom) in 1/2-inch slices
2 avocados, thinly sliced
Chopped fresh chives or basil leaves (for garnish), optional
Combine all remoulade sauce ingredients and store, covered, in refrigerator for at least two hours to allow flavors to marry. This recipe makes more sauce than you will need, but it will last in the refrigerator for several weeks and is great on fried green tomatoes, sandwiches and grilled chicken.
In a small pot, cook rice according to package instructions, adding 1 grated garlic clove. Fluff rice with a fork and keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until brown and crisp. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, reserving 2-3 tablespoons bacon fat. In same skillet, fry eggs until whites are cooked through and yokes are runny.
In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 1 teaspoon olive oil and the remaining grated garlic clove. Add spinach, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until just wilted.
Assemble bowls: To each of four bowls, add a large spoonful (1/2 to 3/4 cup) of garlic rice, 2 slices bacon, spinach, a slice of tomato, one avocado half and 1 egg; season with salt and black pepper. Top with a generous drizzle of remoulade sauce, and sprinkle with fresh chives or top with a sprig of fresh basil, if desired. Serve immediately with extra remoulade sauce on the table. Makes 4 servings.
Note: I used Benton's Bacon for this dish and found its smoky flavor to be superior. Benton's Bacon can be found locally at Pruett's on Signal Mountain. And if you have them, use glass bowls. This is a pretty dish that deserves to be seen. It makes for a colorful presentation.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.