Fried green tomatoes are something that, for a long time, were sort of an enigma to me. I mean, I had heard of them, and I knew they existed, but had no idea where I would find them (this is not something served in restaurants in Michigan, I’m sorry to say), and no real clue what they were used for (a main course? A side dish? As an appetizer?). In fact, it wasn’t until a family trip to Italy in 2009 that I had the chance to give them a try; my parents took my then-fiancé and I, and my sister and her husband, to Italy for 10 days in celebration of my mom’s 60th birthday and my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. We rented a house up in the hills of Tuscany, and it was basically pretty damn awesome. On our way from the airport to our rented house, we stopped at a tiny little market in the town nearest our destination (the house was LITERALLY in the middle of nowhere) to pick up a few things to keep around the kitchen for daily breakfasts and snacks. My mom grabbed a handful of green tomatoes and threw them into our basket; later that afternoon, she looked at me and said “You could probably figure out how to make fried green tomatoes, right?” Well… sure. Sure, I can figure that out. With a handful of random ingredients (some olive oil that would likely cost $50/bottle here in the US, a package of pre-made bruschetta toasts crushed up to make breadcrumbs, fresh eggs that the home’s owners had left on the counter for us) I made my first-ever batch of fried green tomatoes. And they were delicious.
After that initial introduction to the wonder that is the fried green tomato, I became kind of obsessed with them. Lucky for me, when my husband and I went on our honeymoon, we went to a restaurant that had a fried green tomato stack as an appetizer – and I have been replicating that appetizer ever since! It combines quite a few of my favorite things (goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, BACON), and has become a favorite dish around our house.
Fried Green Tomato Stacks (with bacon, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar)
2 large green tomatoes
1 cup flour
1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
4 T olive oil
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled*
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced by half
salt and pepper
*I will leave it up to you to decide how you want to cook your bacon (in the microwave, on a broiler pan in the oven, on the stovetop, etc). However, it is worth noting that if you choose to cook your bacon in a skillet, you are more than welcome to use the rendered bacon fat to fry your tomatoes in (supplemented with olive oil).
1.) Start by slicing your tomatoes. Cut them crosswise into 1/2″ thick slices – I can typically get 3 good slices out of each tomato. Lay the slices out in a single layer on some paper towels, and let them drain/dry for a few minutes.
2.) While your tomatoes are drying (flip them after a couple minutes), set up your breading station. You’ll need 3 shallow bowls (or plates with a good lip on the edge); the first should have your flour in it (seasoned with a couple generous pinches each of kosher salt and pepper), the second should have your eggs (beaten well), and the third should have your panko. You’ll also want a plate or cutting board to place your breaded tomatoes on, until you’re ready to fry them.
3.) When your breading station is ready, take a minute to put your balsamic vinegar on to reduce. Put the vinegar into a small sauce pan, over medium low heat. Let it come up to a simmer, and keep it at a low simmer until the vinegar has reduced by half (make sure to keep an eye on it – it goes from thick enough to coat the back of a spoon [which is what you want] to GLUE-LIKE in about 30 seconds. Be ye forewarned).
4.) Now that your vinegar is reducing, let’s get to frying! Start by placing a large skillet over medium heat. Add about 2 T of olive oil to the pan (you want the entire bottom of the skillet to be covered in a thin layer of oil, so adjust as necessary). While your oil heats, bread your tomatoes. First coat them in flour (shaking off any excess), then dip them into the egg (making sure all the flour gets coated with egg), and finally coat them in panko.
5.) When you have half of your tomatoes breaded, gently place them into the pan. Two things to watch out for: is your oil smoking? If so, turn the heat back a bit, and let the oil cool down for a minute before adding your tomatoes. When you place the first tomato in the pan, do you hear a good sizzle? If not, let the oil continue to heat up a bit before adding your tomatoes. Oil that isn’t hot enough = greasy tomatoes. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan; obviously, the tomatoes need to be in a single layer, and there needs to be a bit of space in between them.
6.) Fry the tomatoes on the first side for 3-4 minutes, or until they’re golden brown, and then flip and fry them for another 3 minutes or so on the other side. While the first batch of tomatoes is frying, you can get to work breading the second batch. (You can also check on your reducing balsamic vinegar, to see how that’s coming along).
7.) When the tomatoes are golden brown on both sides, remove them to a plate lined with paper towels, so that any excess oil will be absorbed.
8.) When your tomatoes are fried and your balsamic vinegar is reduced, you’re ready to make your stacks! On each plate, place a fried green tomato, top with a bit of crumbled goat cheese, a bit of crumbled bacon, and a spoonful of your balsamic reduction. Repeat for each layer, until all your tomatoes are gone.
I tell you what, these tomato stacks are AWESOME. The tartness of the tomatoes and the goat cheese, with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, and the salty bite of the bacon is just PERFECTION. They would be perfect for a small dinner party (you could make them full size, and just keep the tomatoes warm and crisp in a 200° oven, on a baking rack placed onto a baking sheet, until you’re ready to use them), or even a larger cocktail party (cut the tomatoes into quarters after frying, top with a piece of bacon, a bit of goat cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic, and spear the whole thing with a toothpick. You could change up the non-tomato components any way you want (they’re delicious layered with pimento cheese and bacon, I can tell you that much).
I’m practically an authentic Southerner at this point,