This is the time of year when (thank you, God!) we have ripe tomatoes coming out our ears. I always plant a lot of tomatoes, especially the grape tomatoes, since Friend Husband loves them so much, and I also share them with a couple of elderly couples in our congregations. But I also overplant the larger tomatoes because you never know what will happen. One year, my romas got end rot and were flat nasty. One year none of them did well. But most years, they do well and we are swimming in tomatoes about this time.
I love that.
If I weren't nursing a nasty cold right now, I'd probably be making gazpacho. If I had cilantro, I would have turned those ruby reds into hot and potent salsa (also tried and true for killing the cold virus...you heard it here first!). Sadly, none of those things happened. Happily, there is another wonderful thing you can do with all those ripe tomatoes and it falls under the heading of "comfort food", which I feel like I need right now. I don't know what it's called exactly, but let's just call it "fried tomatoes".
I first encountered this recipe in Frances Mayes' book, Bella Tuscany. She said that her mom and the cook would make these in the hot southern summers of her youth. I only make them once or twice a summer because they're basically heart attack in a skillet but man are they good. And, as Marilyn Harris says, everything in moderation, including moderation.
This is one of those recipes that doesn't have specific amounts. I know that that is discomforting for some but it's not rocket science. You need vegetable oil, ripe ripe tomatoes, flour, pepper, salt, oregano or thyme, and cream. A cast iron skillet is just plain lovely here, but you can make due with lesser cookware if that's all you have (note: every cook should have a cast iron skillet...I'm just sayin').
Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-1/2" slices, removing the top with the stem scar beforehand. Don't use the bottom of the tomatoes where the skin still is, unless you feel that you want to peel the sucker. It won't hold the flour. Trust me on this.
On waxed paper (like Frances) or a pie plate or plate (like me), put about 2/3 of a cup of flour. Again, it's not rocket science. More or less will not be a problem. Sprinkle salt and pepper in it and toss until mixed. Coat the tomato slices with the flour mixture.
While you're doing this, you will have been heating up your oil (4 T. or so, just enough to make it good and slick but not enough to come too much up the slices when they're in the pan) to a frighteningly hot degreee. Tonight, I put my electric range control on "8" and nervously sliced tomatoes until I could really smell the hot oil. Then I chickened out and turned it off. You don't want to do that. Hot is good here. When it's really, really hot, quickly lay the tomato slices in and cook. When they're brown on one side, flip 'em over and brown 'em on the next.
Ok, here's where these lovely fruits become magical and comforting. Pour heavy cream into the skillet, just enough to come about halfway up the slices. Jiggle the skillet around so that it's evenly distributed, add salt, pepper, and oregano or thyme and turn the heat down low. Those tomatoes will melt into the cream and become something wonderful that you never knew that you needed before today. Eat 'em up. They're ok cooled off, but much better hot!
Note to the lactose-intolerant: Friend Husband is one of the LI. He cannot eat any uncooked dairy without becoming ill. He does eat these, though. He scoops them out, tilting them to remove as much cream as possible, and so far he's not had any negative side effects. Give it a shot.
Note to the health conscious: Yes, this calls for totally fattening heavy cream. Yes, I know it's bad for you. Use Vitamin D milk if you must, but don't go any lower with the fat content of the dairy you're pouring over this. It will not taste magical at all. Just stick with sliced tomatoes and/or gazpacho if you don't want to mess with the cream.