BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY | FOOD PREPARED AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY BROOKE ECHOLS
Plump green globes are ripening to red. Get ready to make the most of summer’s tomatoes!
At its roots, Southern food is simple. Many of our regional favorites are pretty basic, but built on authentic ingredients and time-tested techniques. Perhaps the purest expression of this is a humble bite that requires three ingredients and two tools (knife and fork): a thick round of fresh-off-the-vine, ripe-to-its-core, summer-sun-warmed tomato. Cut a slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then dig on in. Or take things a step farther. Spread a little mayo on two pieces of white bread, and tuck your slice in between them for a tomato sandwich. Kick the situation up one more notch with the addition of bacon and some lettuce, and you’ve created the classic BLT, in my opinion, the absolute best taste of tomato season. All of these applications use tomatoes raw, but you should definitely cook some too. In fact, heat increases the amount of lycopene, a key tomato nutrient, that our bodies can absorb. And with the diversity of this month’s reader-submitted dishes and the depth of tomato flavor they promise, you’ll likely find a few new go-to options to add to your tomato recipe repertoire.
To chill or not to chill?
In recent years, a fiery debate erupted in the food world questioning the old adage “never refrigerate tomatoes.” After some back and forth and finally, some real research, the consensus now seems to be that sometimes you should and sometimes you shouldn’t. If you’ve got slightly unripe tomatoes on your hands, you want to leave them at room temperature. The cold of your fridge will halt any further ripening. If you’ve got perfectly ripe tomatoes, leave them out too, unless you think you won’t eat them within a couple of days. They will continue to ripen, and if left at room temp too long, will rot. Feel free to chill them to preserve them for longer. You may notice a less-than-stellar texture, but it’s better than finding them mushy and inedible.
The South’s favorite fruit
Tomatoes are put on a pedestal in the South; in some circles down here, they are hailed as the quintessential piece of produce in our region. But they are not exclusive to our area. They are grown (and enjoyed) all over the country, and in many other parts of the world. They’re an important part of food culture in Italy. They are the state vegetable of New Jersey — even though, botanically speaking, they are not a vegetable at all, but a fruit. And China is the largest producer of tomatoes, with India second and the United States coming in third.
Cook of the Month!
Sara Jean Brooklere has been making her Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice for several years, always to the delight of her family. She created the recipe by mixing and tweaking the ingredients of several tomato dishes she liked, including a few her grandmother used to make. “It’s just so good. I love it,” she said. It looks good, too. She pointed to its presentation as another reason it’s a favorite. “It’s really pretty on the plate and nice to serve to guests,” she said. And she offered this tip. “It’s a great way to use up all the tomatoes you get in summer, and you can use the really big ones, but I like to use smaller tomatoes.” She also encourages improvising to make the stuffing fit your tastes. “I actually don’t love garlic, so sometimes I leave it out, and the dish is just as delicious.”
- 8 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cleaned
- ½ cup rice
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
- 6 slices bacon, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced sweet basil
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- ½ cup grated Fontina cheese or Romano cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho
- 2 cups tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup watermelon, chopped
- 1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (plus more for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Sea salt
Put tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and basil into a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and vinegar to taste. Serve garnished with more basil, if desired.
Robin OSullivan, Wiregrass EC
- 1 pound bacon or sausage
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 pint fresh tomatoes, diced or 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes Splash of milk
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the bacon in a deep iron skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and keep the grease in the pan. Gradually stir in the flour so that no lumps form, then mix in the tomatoes, continuing to cook and stir until thickened. If gravy is too thick, add water a little at a time until right consistency. Remove from heat, stir in a splash of milk, salt and pepper to taste. Serve over hot, homemade biscuits.
Kellie Petty, North Alabama EC
Skillet Tomatoes and Zucchini
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 2 small zucchini, sliced
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- Dash of pepper
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 cup seasoned croutons
- ½ cup toasted pecans
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add zucchini and onion. Cook over medium heat until tender-crisp. Gently stir in tomatoes and seasonings. Cover and cook 3-5 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cheese and croutons. Cover and let stand 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Add toasted pecans and serve.
Peggy Lunsford, Pea River EC
Southern Tomato Pie
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
- 4 tablespoons ice-cold water
Optional: Store bought piecrust
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow or sweet onion, sliced thinly
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
- 4 large tomatoes, sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon parsley
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup gruyere cheese
Prepare crust: In mixer, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Mix in butter 1 tablespoon at a time on medium speed. Add ice-cold water until combined. Do not over mix. Press dough in lightly buttered pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Bring dough to room temperature. Sprinkle dough with flour and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Press dough in a 9-inch pie pan. Chill crust before baking to keep crust from bubbling. Also, you can place parchment paper on top with pie weights to keep from bubbling. Bake crust until lightly brown and cool completely.
Filling and topping:
Sauté onions in olive oil until tender, add salt and pepper. Thinly slice the tomatoes and pat dry with a paper towel. Layer the onions and tomatoes, sprinkling with parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary. Mix together the three cheeses with mayonnaise and spread or place on top of pie. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Deborah Peek, Sand Mountain EC
Tomato ‘n Cheese Bread
- 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
- 2 cups biscuit mix
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 11/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Sprinkle of paprika (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray. Combine biscuit mix with milk. Knead lightly on a well-floured surface. Roll out dough until a little larger than the dish. Press into dish, pushing dough up on sides to form a 1/2-inch rim. Arrange tomato slices evenly over dough. Sauté onion in butter until tender. Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, salt and Italian seasoning; add to onions and spread over tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the dish. For extra color, sprinkle dish lightly with paprika. Bake 25 minutes. Serves 12.
Mary Donaldson, Covington EC
Italian Style Baked Tomatoes
- 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
- 2-3 large tomatoes, cut into 3/4 inch slices
- 1/2 cup dry Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions (white and green parts)
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 2-3 dashes hot pepper sauce (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain well in a colander, pressing with paper towels to remove most of the liquid. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer in prepared pan. Combine breadcrumbs, green onions, eggs, butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, thyme and hot sauce (if using) in a medium bowl. Add spinach; mix well. Spoon equal amounts of the spinach mixture on top of each tomato slice. Bake uncovered 15 minutes. Serves 8.
Janice Bracewell, Covington EC