IT’S UNMISTAKABLE. October’s damp air and autumnal reds and golds remind us that summer is drawing to a close. But you may notice that something in your garden is steadfastly holding on to its green: each fall, Oregon’s cooling temperatures prevent budding tomatoes from maturing, leaving bunches of the tart, unripe fruits clinging to the vine.
In the local spirit of allowing the season to shape our menus, making the most of your green tomato bounty can yield inspired results. Their firm texture withstands cooking better than ripe tomatoes do—the key to preparing them successfully lies in introducing flavors to balance their astringency. Fats such as cooking oil counteract the acidity, as do sweet or aromatic elements like sugar, cinnamon, cumin, or coriander. “Green tomatoes are very versatile once you learn how to use them,” says Lincoln Restaurant chef and co-owner Jenn Louis, who enhances everything from lamb to chutney with the bright flavor of unripe tomatoes. “They are a new product for West Coasters, but our guests who grew up in the South remember eating fried green tomatoes growing up.”
Louis prepares the iconic Southern dish by dousing sliced tomatoes in buttermilk, dredging them in flour and semolina, and deep-frying them until they’re soft in the middle. They can be eaten on their own as fritters or combined with pork belly for a tangy, seasonal BLT. She also recommends trying more unusual preparations, such as a “conserva” of green tomatoes slow-cooked with sugar and fragrant spices, for a zesty complement to goat cheese, a prosciutto sandwich, or grilled whitefish.
At the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Navarre, chef John Taboada substitutes fried green tomatoes for eggplant to make a green-tomato Parmesan. “You get the rich sauce and the crunchy, delicious acidity from the green tomatoes,” he says. “It’s extraordinary.”