Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feel Free to Quote Me

We’re late-comers to Fried Green Tomatoes.  Neither DH nor I have any memory of our mothers (who did most of the cooking in our childhood homes) preparing Fried Green Tomatoes.  Orion, my father in law, was pleasantly surprised the first time I prepared this dish for him.  About halfway through his second serving, Orion told DH & me that his mother used to make Fried Green Tomatoes, but mine tasted different.  The difference in taste would be due to three things—Orion’s mother most likely used flour instead of corn meal and may have given the slices a wet treatment (dipped in egg or milk/buttermilk) before dipping them in flour, and she would have pan fried them either in lard or bacon fat.  There are many recipes for the preparation of Fried Green Tomatoes, and the one below is based on nothing more than our preference for the simple and uncomplicated and our desire to experience the delicious flavor of the green tomato.

What I wanted to know was the history of fried green tomatoes.  My research produced something interesting—fried green tomatoes were brought here after the Civil War by Jewish immigrants.  Really? Both tomatoes and corn are native to the Americas.  Are we really supposed to believe that the indigenous peoples of North and South America never thought of combining corn meal and green tomatoes?  Well, somebody might believe these conclusions, but I do not. 

What I believe, and this is purely speculation, is that green tomatoes and corn meal were indeed combined by indigenous peoples.  As iron was unknown to these cultures prior to the arrival of Europeans, their corn meal dredged green tomato slices were most likely “grilled” on hot rocks.  As tomatoes are native to Peru, it would not be at all surprising to find some form of “fried” green tomatoes in ancient Andean cuisine.  It would not be at all surprising to find some version of "fried" green tomatoes in any or all indigenous cuisines of the Americas.  Even if this is nothing more than speculation on my part, it is completely unbelievable that fried green tomatoes were unknown in the Americas until brought here by Jewish immigrants in the 1890’s.  That is pure poppycock!  Feel free to quote me.

Notes for this recipe:  The amount of cornmeal needed will depend on the number of slices to be coated.  Do not crowd the slices in the skillet.  Give them room to cook and be moved.  Slices must be seared on the outside and then cooked slowly creating a crispy cornmeal coating and a sweet soft interior. Achieving this takes patience and practice, but is definitely worth the effort.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Corn meal
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil

Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them into thick slabs between ¼ and 1/2 inch thick.  Select a flat-bottomed plate with sides (or a large pie plate).  Measure out ½ cup corn meal and pour it onto the plate, add a hefty pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and mix with fingers to combine.  Set aside. Preheat oven to 170.  Place a paper towel on a heat-proof plate and put it in the oven.

Place a heavy flat-bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove.  Turn the heat to the low side of medium-high.  Pour about ¼ inch of olive oil into the skillet.  The oil should be hot, but not smoking.  It is ready when a few drops of water flicked with the fingers into the oil sputters and evaporates on contact.  

While the oil is heating, press the tomato slices one at a time into the corn meal thoroughly covering both surfaces of each slice.  When the oil it ready, put the slices into the skillet and pan fry until golden brown.  Turn over and pan fry until golden brown and the inside is tender.  About 5 minutes per side.  Remove to the paper towel covered plate in the oven.  Repeat with remaining slices, adding more oil as needed.  (Be sure to bring oil up to the proper temperature.)  Eat immediately.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Variation on a Theme

Our garden is coming in.  What we have too much of varies from year-to-year.  This year we have too much summer squash.  When casting about for new and interesting ways to prepare this vegetable, I thought about the Zucchini Fritters Adele made for us several years ago when bushels of this torpedo-sized vegetable threatened the collapse of our porch.  Off I went on a virtual journey to Adele’s blog--Tales of the Basil Queen.  What a journey.  Adele loves to cook and bake—creative, inventive and intrepid, she dares to go where only the most seasoned of cooks cares to venture. 

Reading the Basil Queen’s Zucchini Fritter post the taste and texture memory of these wonderful appetizers lived vividly in my mind, even after the passage of several years.  I knew that not only would the recipe transfer to summer squash, but that it would do so very nicely. 

Adele’s Zucchini Fritters are appetizer-sized morsels of deliciousness.  I wanted entre-sized portions, which was going to require a slight change in texture to support the larger size, and a little flavor enhancement for good measure.  After a trial or two, I settled on adding just a little bit of cornmeal and some minced onion and summer savory.  The end result--a very nice variation on a theme.

Notes for this recipe:  My herb of choice for this recipe is summer savory.  It can be difficult to find, but well worth the effort.  We grow this herb, so my search doesn’t go any farther than the garden.  You can also use other herbs.   Basil or cilantro would be excellent choices.  If using dried herbs, reduce the amount to 1 tsp.

Summer Squash Fritters

2 very large or 5 or 6 smaller summer squash
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup finely minced onion
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh summer savory
½ c. milk
1 egg
1/ 2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. corn meal
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
Olive oil
Sea salt

If using a large summer squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds.  Grate summer squash using a food processor or box grater.  Place the grated summer squash in a bowl, add the tablespoon of Kosher salt, and stir with a rubber spatula, mix to combine.  Set aside and let sit for 30 minutes. 

During the 30 minutes mince the onion and summer savory, and set aside.  Measure the milk into a glass 2 cup measure, add the egg, and beat with a fork until combined, and set aside.  Measure the flour, the baking soda, and corn meal into a bowl, add a good grind of black pepper, and the Kosher salt.  Stir to combine and set aside.

When the 30 minutes have gone by, place a colander in the sink and scrape the summer squash into it.  Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid as possible from the summer squash.  When the squash is dry measure out two cups into a mixing bowl.  Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 170.  Line a heat proof plate with a paper towel and place in the oven.  Place a heavy flat bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove, turn the heat on to the low side of medium high, and pour in about ¼ inch of olive oil.

While the oil is heating, add the flour mixture to the summer squash and mix in.  Add the milk mixture, the minced onion and summer savory, and stir just until combined.  Check the oil in the skillet.  The oil must be hot, but not smoking.  To check if the oil is ready, dip your fingers in a little water and flick them towards the heating oil.  If the oil sputters and the water evaporates on contact, the proper temperature has been reached.

Using a metal ¼ c. solid measure or a ¼ c. scoop drop mounds of the summer squash mixture into the heated oil.  Flatten slightly.

When golden brown, turn the fritter over and cook the other side until nicely golden brown.  

Remove to paper towel-lined plate in the oven and repeat with remaining batter, adding oil as needed. (Be sure to heat the oil to the proper temperature before adding more batter.)  Just before serving, grind a little sea salt over the fritters.  Serve immediately.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Distinctly American

Chemically leavened with an open crumb texture, the muffin is perhaps one of the most American of foods.  Yes, the British have the yeast-based crumpet (what we can an English muffin), but the chemically leavened muffin is distinctly American. 

In the 1980s muffins underwent a metamorphosis--they went from being standard and rather ordinary fare to being anything but. They can be sweet or savory; chemically or yeast leavened; tiny, regular or jumbo; have a snazzy topping or not--but no matter which—they are delicious.  In our household we tend to prefer the simpler, more traditional muffins.  Our general rule, if it’s too sweet to tolerate a pat of butter, it’s not a muffin. 

It’s blueberry season in Vermont, and as I was casting about for something blueberry when this recipe came to mind.  Easy and quick these muffins are moist, not too sweet, and chock full of blueberries.  Although you can put a pat of butter on them, they do very well without.  And, yes, the photographs show ingredients for a double batch -- my solution to the rapid consumption problem!

Notes for this recipe:  Do not over mix when adding the flour and milk or when folding in the blueberries.  Over mixing will result in a less tender muffin.  
Blueberry Muffins

2-1/2 c. blueberries, divided
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (1 tsp. jarred)
½ c. milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease 12 regular muffins cups or line with papers.  Set aside.

In a small bowl mash the ½ cup blueberries with a potato masher being sure to pop all of them.  Set aside.  In a bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  Set aside.  Measure milk into a measuring cup, add vanilla extract, and set aside. 
In a medium-large bowl beat the butter on high speed until pale and light.  Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is very fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time alternately with ½ of the milk/vanilla mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix only until combined. Fold in the mashed blueberries, just until combined.  Fold in the remaining blueberries. 

 Using a ¼ c. scoop fill the muffin cups with batter.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle comes clean.  

Remove muffin tin to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Use a knife to loosen muffins from the tins and carefully remove to wire racks to cool completely.