On Cooking Southern: Shake Up St. Paddy’s With Fried Green Tomato Stacks

IRISH SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Lose an hour in the morning and you’ll be looking for it all day: A late start puts a person behind all day long, in need of a do-over…. The way I feel every year during the week after Americans “Spring forward” into daylight savings time. (Those glib-tongued Celts imbued the South’s inhabitants with their genetic gift for gab and humor.)


FRIED GREEN TOMATOES STACK UP AS FINE AS FROG HAIR

“It’s not easy being green,” says Kermit the frog. But this time of year, everybody wants to be green, wear green, decorate with green, or consume green.

And why not? It’s St. Paddy’s Day week, when most Americans claim a wee drop o’ Celtic blood, with or without confirmation from ancestry.com.

Chicago River during St. Patrick’s Day week

In anticipation of our annual March 17th excuse for an Irish party, this is the week when entire rivers have been dyed green. Corned beef and cabbage are “perfuming” enough kitchens to gas up a hot air balloon. And the week’s sales of Guinness and Irish whiskey could float a boat.

But this cook has been there, done that already. That’s why I’m going off script for the first time in five years by introducing fried green tomato stacks into the week’s green-themed culinary celebration. The tried-and-true Southern dish serves equally well as appetizer or main dish, and it pairs well with my favorite brews.

The “recipe” is an assemblage composed of three separate parts: Fried green tomatoes, bacon pimento cheese and roasted red pepper pesto. What’s not to love about ANY and ALL of these? And once made up, each component may be paired with other dishes and condiments. Here’s a thought: Layer the fried green tomatoes, pesto and pimento cheese on your favorite burger. Can we spell H-E-A-V-E-N??

If staying pure to the concept, though, create stacks by alternating layers of fried green tomatoes with the bacon pimento cheese. Slather the layers with the red pepper pesto.

Try pairing your Fried Green Tomato Stacks with one of Mississippi’s home-brewed craft beers such as Biloxi Brewing’s Salty Dog beer. Then go on to experiment with beers from the other breweries. As the Irish always say, “It’s six of one half a dozen of the other” as to which will whet your whistle best.

Sláinte, y’all!


FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Green tomatoes are available at Kroger and Walmart. Plan to use them the day of purchase or they will continue ripening.

1 lb green tomatoes, skin on
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c yellow corn meal
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp table salt
Canola oil

Beat the eggs and have ready in a bowl. Whisk together the flour, salt and corn meal and have ready in a large plate. Slice the tomatoes about a quarter-inch thick, skin-on. Dip in the egg, shake off excess, and dredge in the flour-cornmeal mixture. Shake off excess and place on a rack to set up.

Pour about a half-inch of cooking oil into a large skillet. Heat on medium-high to about 350˚ (oil will be about to pop but not burning); lower heat to medium if too hot. Carefully slide prepped tomatoes into the hot oil, sides not touching. Fry for about two minutes or until bottom side begins to turn golden brown. Carefully flip to other side and repeat. Remove fried tomatoes to rack positioned over drip pan or paper towels. Sprinkle sparingly with salt to taste.

While still hot, form the tomato stacks; the pimento cheese will begin to melt where it touches the hot tomatoes.


BACON PIMENTO CHEESE

This recipe harks back to the recipe’s origin by calling for cream cheese. When there’s no time to create homemade pimento cheese, I use Pawley’s Island Palmetto Cheese, and mix in Hormel original crumbled bacon.

2-oz jar of diced pimentos (drained)
8 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz cream cheese
1 tsp white granulated sugar
1/2 c (Duke’s) mayonnaise
Dash of cayenne pepper
Splash of Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce
1/4 c finely chopped onion, optional
3-4 slices bacon, crisp cooked and crumbled fine (equivalent of 3-4 T)

Add pimentos to cheese in a bowl and mix. Add sugar, mayo and cream cheese to mixture until blended. Stir in cayenne and hot sauce. Last, add the onions (juice squeezed out through paper towel), stirring with hand mixer if you want the mixture soft and spread-able, or with a hand whisk if you prefer it “chunky.” Scrape down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Fold in crumbled bacon until well blended. Chill at least 2 hours.


ROASTED RED PEPPER PESTO

Roasted red peppers may be made from scratch by placing them on an open flame and turning them as the skin blisters, or by roasting in the oven until the peel separates from the pepper flesh. But it’s easier to purchase them already roasted and peeled at the olive bar, or in 12-oz jars sold in the Italian specialty section of the local grocery store.

2 (12-oz jars) roasted red peppers (3 c)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 c toasted pine nuts
Juice from one lime
1/2 tsp kosher salt

To toast the pine nuts, heat a skillet on the stove for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pine nuts in a single layer without any oil. Shake the pan and turn the nuts with a wooden spoon until they turn golden. Once they start to toast, shake continuously and remove skillet from heat before the nuts over-cook. Cool completely.

Drain the peppers and remove any remaining seeds. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until combined and smooth. Store in a sealed container in the fridge up to a week.

VARIATION: Add one or two leaves of fresh basil.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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