A sure way to happiness is finding fresh local tomatoes at their peak. The tomato is absolutely my favorite vegetable. This crispy tomato salad combines cooked and raw tomatoes, the large guys and the small guys. You can call it a medley but I think of it as a party.
Before we start to cook these fellas, let’s take a minute to talk about buying and storing them. How do you know if a tomato is worth buying? Fragrance is everything. Out-of-season supermarket tomatoes have zero aroma. If you put your nose to the stem of a given specimen and it smells like a tomato, you’re home free.
As for color, a tomato doesn’t have to be red from top to bottom to be good to go; it continues to ripen after it’s been picked from the vine. How to store them? Put your tomatoes on the counter out of the sun. Don’t refrigerate them. It will kill their taste.
I like to maximize the flavor of a ripe tomato with a salt soak. After you’ve sliced your tomato, sprinkle it with salt and let it drain for at least 20 minutes. Salt not only pulls out excess water, it also intensifies the tomato essence. I salt my tomatoes this way before adding them to any salad.
This recipe is my take on fried green tomatoes, a classic of Southern cuisine. The standard recipe features unripe tomatoes coated in cornmeal and deep-fried. Here we’re working with ripe tomatoes, not green ones, and sauteing rather than frying them.
How ripe is ripe? Not so ripe that they’ve gone soft. You want them to be firm. These will hold together better when cooked.
The salad is finished with a simple buttermilk dressing made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic and fresh herbs. Which herbs? I’ve suggested a mix of tarragon, parsley and chives, but the tomato goes equally well with just about any herb under the sun, so feel free to sub in your own favorites.
CRISPY TOMATO SALAD WITH BUTTERMILLK RANCH DRESSING
By Sara Moulton
- Two firm, ripe beefsteak tomatoes (10-12 ounces each)
- 2 cups assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
- Kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, chives and parsley)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
To make dressing: In medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Set aside.
Slice beefsteak tomatoes crosswise, 1/3-inch thick. (You should get 4 slices from each tomato.) Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt and let drain on cake rack at least 20 minutes.
Halve cherry tomatoes. Place in bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand at least 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in shallow bowl or pie plate, beat egg; add buttermilk and whisk until combined well.
In separate shallow bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, cheese and salt.
Pat large tomatoes dry with paper towels. Coat half of them with buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip off, then dip them in the cornmeal mixture, making sure they are coated all over.
In large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add 4 coated tomato slices and cook until golden, about 2 minutes a side. Transfer 2 slices to each of 2 plates.
Repeat procedure with remaining tomato slices, buttermilk mixture, cornmeal and oil and transfer those slices to 2 more plates.
Spread cherry tomatoes on paper towels and quickly pat dry. Mound a fourth of the cherry tomatoes on top of each portion and drizzle with buttermilk dressing. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 392 calories, 27 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 377 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 8 g protein.
Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “HomeCooking 101.”