Category Archives: bar cookies

Green Tomato Double-Feature: Fried Green Tomatoes and Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the yield from six plants: 4 lbs, 10 oz

Green Tomatoes: Get Them While They’re Cold

We’re past due for a killing frost, and it’s virtually guaranteed before Halloween. According to Climate-charts.com, there’s a 10% chance of frost by September 30 in Ann Arbor and a 90% chance by October 30. You can, obviously, tempt fate and leave your tomatoes out to see how long you can stretch the caprese salad and BLT season, but even if we end up in the long tail this year, the end is nigh. Also, the end is delicious. Here are the two best ways I’ve found use up the tomatoes that didn’t get a chance to ripen on the vine:

great on their own, or with any kind of mayonnaise-based dressing like Ranch or Thousand Island

if "green tomato mincemeat" squicks you out, just call them "spiced streusel bars"

This should conclude Tomatofest 2010 (previous entries this year: Tomato Jam, Tomato Soup, and Sweet Tomato Curd Squares). However, I also have an article about tomatoes coming out in a community recipe and resource book by Edible Avalon, and I should have more details about that soon.

I. Fried Green Tomatoes

A friend mentioned recently that knowing “fried green tomatoes” were a classic, he’d tried just slicing up some tomatoes and throwing them into a skillet with some rendered bacon fat. That actually doesn’t sound like a terrible idea, but you should be prepared to watch the tomatoes fall apart as they cook. So depending on how much bacon fat there is and what you’d planned on doing with them, it might not have the desired effect.

Raw green tomatoes are much firmer than ripe ones—coring them is almost like coring an apple. However, as they cook, the cell walls break down and the bitterness abates and whatever acids and glutamates and aromatic compounds the tomato accumulated before it got prematurely yanked from the vine will intensify. Once it’s cooked through, it will taste kind of like a ripe tomato, or at least like a roasted grocery store tomato, which is to say, not bad.

I find that medium heat is about right on my stovetop--you want them to get nice and brown in about 2-3 minutes on each sideThe classic way to prevent them from dissolving before they cook long enough to be palatable is to dredge them in egg and flour (or cornmeal or bread or cracker crumbs). Then, you fry them in about 1/4” of hot oil, melted lard or shortening (not butter, unless it’s clarified, because the milk solids will burn and the water content will make them soggy). When they’re golden brown on the outside and cooked through inside, they’re done.

Even if a few pieces of the breading fall off, they should stay together well enough to be crispy on the outside and soft and savory on the outside. However, you have to eat them immediately—fried tomatoes retain too much moisture to be kept crisp in an oven or re-crisped in a toaster, so only make as many as you want to eat right away. If you want to save some of your green tomatoes for later in the year, you can slice them, spread them out individually on a foil-lined sheet and freeze them for a few hours (just to keep them from freezing into one big hunk). Then transfer them to another container, like a gallon zip-top freezer storage bag. When you want to cook them, just pull them out of the freezer, bread them, and fry them. Don’t defrost them first, or they’ll turn to mush (that’s also why you need to slice and freeze them separately). But if you get them in the pan while they’re still frozen, the breading should keep them together once they cook through.

II. Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the "before" shot: all the mincemeat ingredients dumped in a pot to simmerthe "after" shot: what really stands out are the golden raisins, but basically everything else is cooked green tomato

The other recipe that pops up the most in google searches “green tomatoes” is green tomato mincemeat. Mincemeat was originally one of those Early Modern dishes that seems pretty odd to most Americans now because comes from a time and place before meat and sweets were firmly separated (with transgressors like bacon desserts merely reinforcing the binary by playing up how “wrong” it is to violate it). Mincemeat usually included less desirable cuts or leftover bits of meat and suet (raw beef or mutton fat) cooked with dried fruits, sugar, alcohol, and spices. It was a way to stretch the meat, make it palatable, and preserve it, and was most often baked in a pastry crust, either as single-serving pockets or double-crusted pie. Here’s an 18th C. recipe that calls for making a massive amount of the suet and dried fruit mixture to bake and eat over four months, with the option of adding a little boiled tongue or beef later:

To make Mince-Pies the best Way
Take three Pounds of Suet shread very fine, and chopped as small as possible, two Pounds of Raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible, two Pounds of Currans, nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the Fire, half a hundred of fine Pippins [apples], pared, cored, and chopped small, half a Pound of fine Sugar pounded fine, a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, a quarter of an Ounce of Cloves, a Pint of Brandy, and half a pint of Sack [sherry]; put it down close in a Stone-pot, and it will keep good four Months. When you make your Pies, take a little Dish, something bigger than a Soop-plate, lay a very thin Crust all over it, lay a thin Layer of Meat, and then a thin Layer of Cittron cut very thin, then a Layer of Mince meat, and a thin Layer of Orange-peel cut think over that a little Meat; squeeze half the Juice of a fine Sevile Orange, or Lemon, and pour in three Spoonfuls of Red Wine; lay on your Crust, and bake it nicely. These Pies eat finely cold. If you make them in little Patties, mix your Meat and Sweet-meats accordingly: if you chuse Meat in your Pies, parboil a Neat’s Tongue [ox tongue], peel it, and chop the Meat as finely as possible, and mix with the rest; or two Pounds of the Inside of a Surloin or Beef Boiled." From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1747 (Prospect Books: Devon, 1995, p. 74). From The Food Timeline

Gradually over the 18th and 19th C, meat went from central to optional to uncommon and the dried fruit & spice preparation eaten alone was still referred to as “mincemeat” or sometimes just “mince.” It became a favorite way to use green tomatoes, because their savory glutamates stood in well for the meat and because boiling them with sugar and dried fruits was a good way to flavor and preserve them, too. Just like the meaty versions, the mixture is usually baked into a pastry. Also, like most cooked tomato products, it can be preserved in canning jars processed in a boiling water bath.

I had 4 1/2 lbs of green tomatoes, which made enough mincemeat for two recipes. I froze half of it rather than canning it, and perhaps I’ll bake that into a mincemeat pie for Christmas. I decided to treat the other half like any standard fruit preserve and bake it into a simple streusel bar cookie. What’s great about this recipe is you use the same mixture for the crust and the topping, so it’s dead simple to throw together. You could also substitute any kind of pie filling or preserves for the tomato mincemeat, use any kind of nuts you want in the crust and topping, use any kind of fat, any kind of flour. It’s entirely customizable. Same goes for the mincemeat—add some crystallized ginger if you have it, add other spices like cardamom or mace if you want them or leave out the cloves or nutmeg if you’re not a fan, throw in a tart apple or two or some carrots or winter squash, use currants or cranberries in place of the golden raisins, etc. It’s a template, not a chemical formula.

The result is just a great, simple spiced bar cookie. The tomato mincemeat is salty-sweet and has a kind of savory umami funkiness, almost like a sweet tomato chutney. The spices evoke pumpkin pie and apple crisp and piles of raked leaves and itchy hay rides. The oats and nuts in the streusel give it a sort of rustic chew and crunch. If my tomato curd squares were Summer in a bar cookie, this is the same idea dressed in a sweater and scarf for Fall.

you'll get a close-up of the Jack o'Lantern when I post about roasting pumpkin seeds

Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • green tomatoes (one medium tomato per person)
  • 1 egg for every 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, panko, or something else with crunch
  • 2-3 t. seasoned salt, Old Bay, Bacon Salt, Jerk or Cajun seasoning blend, or whatever other herbs or spices you desire (just nothing that burns easily, like cinnamon or Chinese Five Spice)
  • 2 t. kosher salt, divided (or slightly less regular salt)
  • 1/2-1 cup oil, lard, or shortening for frying

Method:

1. Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.

2. Combine the flour, crunchy bits, seasonings, and salt in one bowl and lightly beat the egg in a second bowl.

3. Core the tomatoes and slice them into 1/4-1/2” rounds.

three tomatoes was too many for two of us to eat. really, one tomato per person is plenty breading and frying set-up; Bacon Salt!

4. Test the oil for heat by flinging a few water droplets at it (mind the splatter). If it sizzles, it’s ready. Dip each slice of tomato in the egg and then then the flour mixture, turning to coat, and place them gently in the hot oil.

5. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle the hot tomatoes with a little more salt. Eat immediately. 

best to salt them when they're just out of the oil so it adheres served along side tilapia with lemon and shallots

Recipe: Spiced Green Tomato Streusel Bars (adapted from CDKitchen and GardenTenders)

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 4 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (~2 lbs)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • a hearty glug of rum or brandy (optional)
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
  • juice from one medium lemon (3-4 T.)
  • zest from one medium lemon (2-3 t.)

For the crust and topping:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes. I usually cut them in half first and then cut a wedge-shaped piece around the stem and the toughest white part in the center. I let the food processor do the chopping part.

minced green tomatoes minceMEATed green tomatoes

2. Combine the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and spices in a large pot and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I cooked it for almost an hour because I doubled the recipe. Some recipes call for cooking it for up to 3 hrs. Just keep an eye on it as it thickens to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pot).

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients for the crust and topping and then mix in the softened butter until the mixture is crumbly and all of the flour is moistened.

green tomato bars and pumpkins 045 pressed into the bottom of the pan for the crust

4. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9×13 pan, and press 2 1/2 cups of the crumbs into the bottom. Spread the cooked tomato mixture over the crust, and sprinkle with the remaining crumbs.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing—or, for the cleanest cuts, chill. For the best flavor, let it come back to room temperature before serving.

sprinkling the reserved streusel on top

The Case for Tomatoes as Dessert and Four Recipes: Fresh Tomato Juice, Tomato Curd, Shortbread Squares, and Candied Basil

not quite enough basil to go around, but that way the squares were basil-optional

The Legal Exception: Green Tomato Pie

When the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes couldn’t be legally considered a fruit because  they weren’t customarily eaten for dessert, there was only one real exception: green tomato pie.Paula Deen's green tomato pie, which includes raisins; click for the recipe The green tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the growing season aren’t especially palatable, at least when they’re raw. They’re hard, and contain substantially less of the sugar, acids, and aromatic compounds that give ripe tomatoes their distinctive flavor. Thanks in part to the 1991 Academy Award-nominated film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe, many people are familiar with the idea that green tomatoes can be eaten breaded and fried. Fewer people know that green tomatoes are such a blank slate that they can just as easily be used in sweet preparations. Sliced or minced and cooked in a pastry crust with lots sugar and some cinnamon or other spices, tomatoes make a sweet-tart fruit filling reminiscent of apples. The dessert was common in the American South by the mid-19th C.

However, it specifically relies on tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. While it might seem like ripe tomatoes would be the more obvious choice for desserts because they’re so much sweeter, the savory meatiness imparted by the high glutamate content makes the flavor seem inappropriate for sweet applications.

At Least It’s Not Raw Trout

Still, if there’s anything the age of salted caramel and bacon chocolate should have taught us, it’s the fact that sugar plays well with salty, meaty flavors traditionally confined primarily to savory appetizers and main dishes. Indeed, dessert ice cream made with traditionally-savory flavors has become one of the hallmarks of avant-garde cuisine. Smoked bacon and egg ice cream is one of Heston Blumenthal’s most celebrated creations—and, notably, served with a sweet tomato jam as part of the breakfast-themed dessert that’s a fixture on the menu of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. A San Francisco ice creamery named Humphry Slocombe recently profiled in The New York Times offers many savory-sweet flavors including foie gras, “government cheese,” and salted licorice. And the competitors on Iron Chef America have presented the judges with ice cream desserts using secret ingredients ranging from abalone to the infamous raw trout.

a tomato ice cream written about a couple of years ago in the NYTimes, click for the recipe Tomato ice cream may sound like just another novelty or oddball flavor, but in fact, it may have preceded all this recent nouveau frippery, possibly even dating back to the very origins of ice cream in America. In the 18th C., when ice cream was still a relatively new invention and hadn’t yet become common in England or America, Benjamin Franklin got his first taste of the churned, frozen custard while visiting Paris. He liked it so much that he wrote in a letter home: “I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia.” French and American cookbooks from the era suggest that the most popular flavors back then were apricot, raspberry, rose, chocolate, and cinnamon, but it has been rumored that the flavor Ben Franklin liked best was tomato.

Given the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of tomato ice cream in the 18th C. and in light of the Nix v. Hedden decision, the Franklin rumor is improbable. However, after making something very akin to tomato ice cream last year for Battle Tomato, I feel like it’s not entirely impossible. Prepared with enough sugar, tomato is a perfectly plausible dessert flavor—like strawberry’s slightly funky cousin or a less-tart gooseberry. It’s a tiny bit peculiar, perhaps, but also really alluring, a savory-sweet combination reminiscent of salt-water taffy or yogurt-covered pretzels or anything else that simultaneously hits sour, salty, and sweet tastes. It can be really delicious.

Tomato Squares

When I was trying to figure out what kind of dessert to make for the housewarming party—something I hadn’t made in a while, something I’d only make for company—Brian suggested lemon squares. I’d just been thinking that basically any dessert you can make with lemons should also work with tomato, so I decided to put that to the test. Tomato juice may not be quite as acidic as lemon juice, but I thought it would be tart enough to set off the buttery richness of a shortbread crust and eggy curd filling, but I also hoped the bars might get a little extra something from the savory-ness of the tomato.

I started by making some fresh tomato juice using heirlooms from the garden, which turned out insanely good—perhaps the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted. I used about a cup of that in place of most of the lemon juice in my standard lemon curd recipe, which uses a basic cake-mixing technique to obviate the need for straining by coating the egg proteins in fat before adding the acid. That also turned out totally delicious—the first time I tasted it to see if I needed to adjust the level of sugar or acidity, I just kept going back for more. Just as I had hoped, the tomato added a totally new dimension to the curd, giving it a little oomph and intrigue. I put most of it in the refrigerator and then licked the pan clean. I used the curd to top the shortbread crust that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends for lemon bars, which I like because it stays crisp even after being topped with a wet filling, cooked it until the curd was just barely set. The curd was more of a golden color, but as it cooked, the red pigments started to come through more. And voila: tomato squares!

although I hadn't thought of it before, you could probably make bar cookies like this with any fruit or vegetable flavor...guava squares, mango squares, ginger-lime squares, cranberry squares, etc.

Candied Basil Leaves

Thinking they looked a little plain on their own, I decided to garnish them with some candied basil leaves—like a sweet take on caprese salad. First, I tried the method suggested by a cookbook called Wine Mondays, which involved poaching the leaves in a sugar syrup with a high ratio of sugar : water and then baking them at a low temperature until they crystallize. Unfortunately, they discolored, probably because there was a hot baking stone still in the oven and I’m an idiot.

So I improvised a second batch by simply poaching the leaves in a 1:1 simple syrup, dredging them in some extra sugar to crystallize them, and drying them at room temperature on wax paper. That worked pretty well, although once I put them on the bars, they absorbed a little moisture from them and ended up soggier than I would have liked. If I ever decide to candy leaves again, I’ll probably use another method I’ve read about that involves brushing the leaves with raw egg white, dredging them in sugar, and then baking them at a very low temp (~150F) until they’re hard and dry.

Very similar to candied mint leaves—intensely sweet and herbal.

first, unsuccessful attempt--not only did they discolor, they didn't get anything approximating crisp. maybe another 15-20 min. would have crystalized them?

second, better attempt; still not as crisp as I'd like

Please, Try This At Home

I’ve included all the recipes I used below, separated in case all you’re looking for is a good recipe for fresh tomato juice. If you want to try making tomato bars but this seems intimidating or tedious, there are lots of ways to simplify the process. You could use store-bought tomato juice instead of making your own, and probably should if you can’t get vine-ripened tomatoes from a garden or farmer’s market because at least canned and bottled tomato products are made with vine-ripened tomatoes at their peak, unlike the tomatoes you get at most supermarkets. If you don’t want to bother with a cooked tomato curd, I’ve included a recipe for an uncooked bar cookie filling below which you could use fresh or store-bought tomato juice in. Obviously, the candied basil leaves are optional. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.

You could also use tomato juice in place of citrus juice or fresh, ripe tomatoes in place of fresh fruit in any other dessert recipe. If using fresh tomatoes, you probably want to peel and seed them first to prevent them from watering down the recipe too much. I can imagine fresh tomatoes in place of peaches or cherries in a pie, or sweet cherry tomatoes caramelized on top of a tarte tatin. You could whisk tomato sauce or tomato paste into a standard cake, custard, or icing recipe or use slightly cooked-down tomato puree in place of applesauce or pumpkin puree in a muffin or spice cake. If you think the people you’re serving might be wary of tomatoes for dessert, you can always use the strategy Campbell’s used to sell its Tomato Soup Cake recipe to thousands of housewives during the Great Depression: call it “Mystery Cake” (or pie, or ice cream or whatever) and make people guess at the key ingredient. They’ll come to the realization that it’s delicious before they ever figure out that it’s tomato. 

it separates a little after sitting, but stir or shake before serving and just see if it doesn't beat out every tomato juice you've ever triedRecipe: Fresh Tomato Juice (from Simply Recipes)
(makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes roughly.

2. Place in a medium saucepan with as much of juice as you can get off the cutting board, and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is mostly broken down and very liquid.

4. Force through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids.

Recipe: Tomato Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking
(makes about 4 cups, more than enough to fill a 6-layer cake, two 9” pies, or a 9×13 pan of bar cookies; halve to thickened just enough to coat a spoon so that your finger leaves a trailfill a two-layer cake, one 9” pie, or an 8×8 pan of bar cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Method

1. Using a stand or hand mixer or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for at least 1 min or until the mixture is smooth and begins to lighten in color.

butter and sugar creamed together eggs beaten in well

2. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition and for 2 minutes after all the eggs have been added.

3. Add the tomato juice and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Mixture will likely look curdled or uneven.

4. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to look smooth.

5. Raise the heat to medium and cook, still stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat a spoon or spatula thickly enough that you can run your finger through it and see a trail. 170F on a candy thermometer—the mixture should not boil, but may begin to bubble gently at the edges and steam a little bit.

6. Chill until ready to use.

Recipe: Shortbread Squares (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)
(fills a 9×13 pan; halve for 8×8)

butter cut, wrapped, and ready to chillIngredients:

For the crust:

  • 20 T. (12 oz) butter
  • 4 T. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups cake/pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the filling:

  • approximately 4 cups of fruit curd, pastry cream, or cheesecake batter

OR

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or substitute 1/3 cup of any other juice, like guava or cranberry)
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen fruit (optional; omit for lemon bars; however, blueberries and lemon make a great combination)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

For the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and chill.

3. In a food processor, process the granulated sugar for 1 minute or until very fine—sugar dust will probably rise from the food processor like smoke, that’s normal. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk the dry ingredients together.

sugar "smoke" You should be able to press the crumbs against the side of the bowl and have them stay.

4. Add the chilled pieces of butter and pulse until it’s just a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives.

5. Dump the crumbs directly into an ungreased 9×13 pan and gently press all over to make it a solid layer of shortbread dough.

Beranbaum suggests kneading it together before pressing into a pan; I think pressing it against the bottom works just as well gently pricked with a fork, it's fine if that pulls a few crumbs up--they'll melt back in as it bakes

6. Prick the dough all over with a fork—the dough may want to come away with the tines, I just use two fingers to hold the dough down on either side of the fork tines as I quickly pierce the crust.

7. Bake 30-40 min or just until barely browning at the edges.

flaky and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread

For the filling:

If using a prepared filling, simply spread it over the top of the crust and then return to the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the filling just barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

If using the filling recipe above:

1. Whisk together the sugar and baking powder and then combine with the eggs and whisk until they are beaten well and the mixture is smooth.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

3. Stir in the fruit, if using and pour the egg mixture over the shortbread crust.

4. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.

fresh basil leaves, just picked from the garden, washed and dried wellRecipe: Candied Basil

  • whole basil leaves (about 20 large or 40 small)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1. Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool to lukewarm (the bottom of the pan should be cool enough to touch).

3. Place clean, dry basil leaves in the syrup and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

poached in simple syrup tossed in sugar

4. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a baking sheet. Toss the leaves in the sugar.

5. Place the leaves on wax paper and let them dry overnight or for at least 4 hrs.

the finished product, at a slightly different, but no less wonky angle. whee.