Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fried Green Tomato Parmesan


I was recently the lucky winner of a cheesemaking kit from Panini Happy!  Upon receiving my awesome prize, I ventured out to buy some "special milk" (not ultra-pasturized, preferably local) to make my first attempt at mozzarella cheese, ended up with some local Rhody Fresh whole milk from Whole Foods, and then took my cheesemaking kit and got to work.



I was nervous, but followed all the directions to a T.  My milk curdled beautifully, though it took a little longer than it said in the recipe to get a firm enough curd and clear (not milky) whey.


I cut the curds and then continued heating my curds and whey for the specified amount of time while slowly stirring.



I drained off the whey, split my curds into two halves (to shape two mozzarella balls), and got a hot water bath ready on the stove to heat and stretch my cheese.  This is where I had some issues.  My first batch that I heated started to come together and stretch, but I thought it wasn't quite stretching enough so I heated it more, and apparently too much because it completely fell apart.  Oops!  Time for my second attempt.  I heated it in the water bath just long enough to soften up the proteins enough, bring the curds together and stretch the cheese, added some cheese salt, and stretched and worked it just long enough to form it into a smooth ball.



I honestly barely worked the cheese once it was pliable, and I feel that was the reason why my one and only successful cheese ball was actually such a great success.  It was soft and the perfect texture for fresh mozzarella.  I've heard people complain that their homemade mozzarella sometimes comes out dry (I've even tasted this misfortune in the past), and I believe that is from overworking the cheese at this point.  I will definitely keep that in mind as I make more batches of mozzarella!  Hopefully they will all be successful :)



Now what to do with that delicious homemade mozzarella, you ask? Well, last summer I tried a really amazing dish of Fried Green Tomato Parmesan at Oleana in Cambridge, MA.  I got a signed copy of the cookbook from the restaurant, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, which contains lots of really great recipes, aside from this particular one, and finally got my hands on some green tomatoes from my backyard this summer!  I also had a bunch of ripe red tomatoes from the yard, which I used for the sauce, adapted from the book as well (I changed it to use fresh tomatoes, among a few other adjustments).  The final result, a Southern meets Italian masterpiece.  When green tomatoes are available, I would prefer to make this as opposed to another favorite, Eggplant Parmesan, since eggplants are available through most of the year, while green tomatoes must be picked by you or a nearby farm during summer months only, limiting the time frame to enjoy this dish.

**Note: Although the sauce is called "Tomato Sauce with Caramelized Butter" in the book, I'm thinking I should call it "'Radioactive' Tomato Sauce" due to it's unnaturally bright (and awesome) orange color.  What do you think? haha...

Fried Green Tomato Parmesan with Heirloom Tomato Sauce, Local Mozzarella and Pistachio Pesto at Oleana

Fried Green Tomato Parmesan
Serves 6 to 8
(Adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun)

For the Fried Green Tomatoes:
1 1/2 lbs medium to large green unripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten with 1 T. water
2 cups fresh bread crumbs or panko
1 to 1 1/2 cups olive oil, vegetable oil, or a mixture of the two
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Tomato Sauce with Caramelized Butter:
3 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 T. olive oil
1/2 T. minced garlic
Pinch of chili flakes
1/2 stick (2 oz) unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 to 3/4 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaves

To make the sauce, heat a large saucepan or pot over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes, and sauté for a minute.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes break down and become soft and saucy.


Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the butter on low heat and simmer until the butter turns nut brown and smells like hazelnuts.  The solids will begin to separate and then fall to the bottom.  Butter burns very quickly so watch closely.  Immediately remove the butter from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a dry container.


When the tomatoes have simmered for 20 minutes, add the caramelized butter into the sauce and then puree in a blender until smooth.  Reseason with salt and pepper and set aside (this will make a scant quart of sauce).


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Trim the top and bottom of each green tomato and then slice it into 1/3-1/2 inch thick rounds.  The slices should lie flat.  Lay them on a cutting surface or tray and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.



Set up three deep trays or mixing bowls, as follows: add the flour to one and season with salt and pepper, add the beaten eggs to one and season with salt and pepper, add the bread crumbs to the last bowl.  Dredge a slice of tomato in the flour, shake off excess, then dip it in the egg, shake off excess, then finally into the bread crumbs, coating both sides nicely.  Set aside and bread the rest of the tomato slices the same way.



Heat 1/4 cup oil in a heavy, large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat.  Brown the breaded tomatoes for about 4 minutes on each side, until dark golden brown, adding more oil as necessary to fry all the tomato slices.  Remove the tomatoes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.



To assemble, place a layer of fried green tomatoes in a casserole dish in an even layer, slightly overlapped (or arrange one or two tomato slices, depending on their size, in each of several individual baking dishes).


Top with about half the tomato sauce and some fresh basil leaves.


Then add slices of mozzarella cheese.


Add another layer of fried green tomatoes, the remaining sauce, and more mozzarella cheese.  Finish with a touch of grated Parmesan.


Place the casserole or individual baking dishes onto a sheet pan and into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly.  Garnish with more basil leaves and serve immediately.





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