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Save those green tomatoes from the frost, and enjoy them

Green tomatoes (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

The trees are turning; the winds are picking up; change is in the air. The autumn equinox is almost here, and fall is upon us.

The past week brought not one but four nights below freezing. The tender harvest — tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, eggplant, beans — had to be gathered quickly. And many of those harvested tomatoes are still green!

Some are slightly red and will still ripen in a cardboard box; others, hard and green, will need to be used as is. But many will need to be used green — and used with their special tangy flavor.

Long a staple in the southern states, green tomatoes were immortalized by the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1991), based on Fannie Flagg’s humorous book “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.” Tart and tangy, crisp and crunchy, with a golden rugged exterior encasing a hot, juicy center, fried green tomatoes have a unique culinary charm. They are a traditional Southern accompaniment to meat like pork, ham or even chicken.

They’re fairly easy to make. Slice tomatoes into thick slices; dredge in flour, then beaten egg, then cornmeal or panko bread crumbs; and fry in a skillet. Traditionally they’re served with eggs and bacon for breakfast, but there are other ways to eat them. Serve as an appetizer with dip or pesto. Try them in a BLT with bacon, romaine lettuce and mayonnaise. Roll them up in a tortilla with cooked beans and rice. So many possibilities!

Green Tomato Frittata (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

The best tomatoes for frying should, of course, be green, though a bit of pink is OK. They should not be too soft, like a ripe tomato, but shouldn’t be too hard, either. Cut them about half-inch thick, then coat with a mixture of flour and cornmeal, season with salt, pepper and spices, and fry in a bit of oil.

In the American South, with a long and lush growing season, tomatoes, ripe and unripe, are a culinary staple. Gardeners pick green tomatoes throughout the summer to prevent the branches from collapsing under the weight and the fruit from rotting on the damp earth. Up here in the North Country, most gardeners pick green tomatoes at the end of the season, when the days and nights get so cold that they will not have a chance to ripen.

Americans are eating more tomatoes than ever — due to the benefit of lycopene, the chief carotenoid that gives tomatoes their bright red hue. A potent antioxidant, lycopene has been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Low in calories, tomatoes — both ripe and unripe — are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber, vitamins A and B, potassium, iron and phosphorus.

There are many other ways to use green tomatoes. Recipes for pickles, chutneys, relishes, salsas and ketchup with green tomatoes as the main ingredient abound.

The tangy flavor of green tomatoes goes well with bacon, cheese and hot peppers. They can be sauteed, stewed with garlic and onions, and broiled with a sharp cheese to offset their sharp flavor. Add them to soups, stews or curries with other vegetables. Put them in a quiche or frittata with eggs, bacon, onions and cheese. Stir into pasta or grain dishes. You can even put them on top of a pizza!

Green Tomato and Veggie Quinoa

Ingredients:

2 strips bacon (or 1 Tablespoon olive oil)

1 onion

1 red or yellow bell pepper

1 carrot

1 clove garlic

4 medium green tomatoes

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup quinoa

8 to 10 oz. (about 1 cup) fresh chopped greens like spinach, arugula or parsley

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Chop bacon into 1-inch pieces. Render in skillet; when crisp, remove to paper towel. (For vegetarian version, use a Tablespoon of olive oil.)

Peel and chop onion. Add to drippings in skillet, and cook 5 minutes.

Wash and chop carrot, dice and add.

Wash pepper, remove seeds, and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Stir into the skillet. Chop the green tomatoes, and add. Peel and mince the garlic, add, and cook 1 minute.

Add broth, salt, pepper, turmeric and quinoa. Stir and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, and cook until liquid is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes.

Stir in chopped greens, cheese and crisped bacon, if using.

Serve warm as a main dish, or chilled as a grain salad.

Serves 2 to 3.

Option: If you want it hotter, serve with a little Tabasco sauce, or add a jalapeno pepper (seeds removed, minced) in place of or in addition to the sweet bell pepper.

Green Tomato Frittata

Ingredients:

2 to 3 slices bacon

1 onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 red or orange pepper (about 1 cup, diced)

1 cup diced green tomatoes (one large, 2 medium or a whole bunch of small ones, cut up)

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese or other sharp cheese

1/2 cup diced ham, optional

3 to 4 eggs

1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)

1 Tablespoon water

1 Tablespoon milk

Directions:

Put bacon in skillet on stove and cook.

Peel and dice one onion.

Remove to paper towels to drain. Reserve.

Add onion to bacon drippings, sprinkle with salt, cover, and cook 5 to 10 minutes on low.

Wash and chop the pepper; add to the skillet.

Rinse and chop the green tomatoes, add to the skillet, and stir.

Continue cooking on low, covered, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Beat eggs with optional spices, milk and water.

Stir in ham and cheese. Crumble reserved bacon into the skillet. Cook 1 to 2 minutes until cheese melts; stir. Stir in the eggs, cover, and cook until set. Or break eggs into the veggies, cover, and cook until done (for shakshuka).

Serves 2.

Option: If you like it hot, add some jalapeno pepper along with or in place of sweet bell pepper.

Option: To make into shakshuka instead of frittata, break eggs into the veggie-cheese-meat mixture, cover, and cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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