Cooking with Lady Smokey: Southern Tomatoes


If you’ve never had the opportunity to taste a southern tomato right off the vine, then you really never have truly tasted a tomato. I can say this because I grew up in the South, moved away for twelve years, got caught up in all the beautiful food bounty the great Pacific Northwest has to offer and honestly forgot all about how amazing a southern tomato tastes until we moved to Nashville five years ago.

Suddenly, there were tomatoes everywhere- the most delicious big, fat crazy looking heirlooms and so many other varieties- cherry, pear, grape, romas, on the vine, slicers, juliets, green ones, yellow ones, Cherokee purples, and just about every type of tomato ever thought of. There were suddenly many different types of Bloody Marys, tomato cookies, tomato tarts and pies, tomato festivals with contests and costumes, kings and queens (of tomatoes, that is)…

And best of all, there were tons of tomatoes coming straight from our own garden! I couldn’t believe how I used to take these for granted and it took twelve years not having them and then rediscovering them to fully appreciate them! Glorious tomatoes, how I adore you all!!!

Tomatoes Heirloom

We practically have a tomato jungle out there in our back yard and just about every day, we bring in a bowl full of new ones. Thus, all these recipes have come to fruition. Here is a sampling of some of our favorites for this summer.

 Tomatoes in Garden

As a child, we always had sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on the table as sort of a side condiment. Simple goodness. We’re having a scorcher of a hot summer this year. Turning on the oven makes our air conditioner go into over-drive so we’ve been eating lots of salads. Here is a yummy tomato vinaigrette I came up with.

Tomato Vinegarettin Mason JarFresh Tomato Vinaigrette

  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • big bunch of herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp blasamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp cane sugar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients into a blender and blend away! We enjoyed this vinaigrette atop an arugula and roasted corn salad!

Cucumber Salad and Corn SaladAnother simple yet delicious salad I recently made was this raw recipe from Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine. We took this for lunch one day and it totally energized us!

Zucchini “Pasta”
Serves 2

  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped raw walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons torn fresh basil, plus leaves for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Sea salt
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise, slices cut into 1/4-inch-long strips

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, walnuts, basil, and oil. Season with salt. Let stand 20 minutes. Toss with zucchini and garnish with basil.

Cherry TomatoesAnd speaking of cherry tomatoes, one of my favorite recipes from last summer which I revisited last weekend while family was visiting from South Carolina, is this cherry tomato cobbler.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

  • about 3 cups cherry tomatoes (really depends on size of casserole dish)
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small vidalia onion, chopped
  • fresh herbs
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

First I placed the cherry tomatoes in an oven-safe dish with some olive oil and roasted them for 20-30 minutes at 375. Meanwhile, I sauteed some vidalia onions in olive oil and then added sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and a little chopped fresh basil and rosemary. I pulled the tomatoes out and combined those with the onion mixture and added in one Tbsp of flour. These tomatoes are so amazing on their own that I did not want to add many more flavors. Next I made some biscuits (see recipe below) then dropped the dough by spoon fulls over the tomato mixture, leaving a few tiny gaps between. I baked this for about 40 minutes when the biscuits were golden brown and the tomatoes were bubbling up!

Cheddar Herb Biscuits (for top of cobbler)

  • 2 cups White Lily flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 2/3-3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar (or parmesan reggiano or a combination of the 2)
  • a bunch of fresh herbs, chopped (I used rosemary and basil)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Cut butter into pieces and add to bowl. Mix with hands gently until the butter is in crumbs the size of peas. Add the cheese and herbs. Blend in buttermilk and gently mix in but do not over mix. (If just making biscuits and not using these as a top for the tomato cobbler, you should- heat oven to 500 degrees. Turn dough onto floured surface. Knead gently 2-3 times. Roll dough to 1/2″ thickness. Grind pepper over dough. Cut using a biscuit cutter. Place on cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes or until golden on tops.)

Tomato Cobbler

One of the simplest and yummiest ways to use the big bowl of ripe tomatoes sitting on your kitchen counter is to roast them up!

Tomatoes in a JarI just cut them in big pieces, arrange in a glass over-proof dish, and sprinkle with olive oil, a little sea salt and some fresh herbs. Place the dish in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Once cooled, then place in a jar and use them in everything! One of our favorite simple dishes is to puree the roasted tomatoes in a blender, add a teaspoon of cane sugar and serve over pasta for a simple sauce. Sometimes we roast the tomatoes with Vidalia onions and garlic, too, for a little more depth of flavor.

Roasted TomatoesMy favorite summer recipe this year, though, is this comforting one-pot chicken dish my husband came up with a couple weeks ago. It hit the spot!

Tomatoes and Okra from the GardenBig Smokey’s Southern Chicken Bog

  • 3-4 chicken thighs, bone and skin on
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp bacon fat or butter
  • 1 small red, orange or yellow pepper, chopped
  • ½ Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 6-8 okra, cut in slices
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp dried chopped rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ cup white Basmati rice
  • 3 cups stock

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium. Add bacon fat when pan is hot. While pan is heating, mix flour, spices, salt & pepper together in a bowl. Dredge chicken thighs in flour mixture. (Save flour mixture for use with okra.) Once pan is hot and bacon fat is sizzling, add chicken skin side down. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until skin side is a dark golden brown. Turn chicken over and continue to cook 5 more minutes. Put chicken aside.

Add onion and pepper to pan. Dredge okra in remaining flour mixture and add to pan. Cook until onion and pepper is soft and okra is slightly brown. Add chopped tomato, rosemary, bay leaf, and cook for 5 more minutes until tomato starts to break down. Stir in rice. Salt and pepper a little more to taste. Nestle the chicken back into the mixture, skin side up. Add 2 cups of the stock. Reduce the heat to medium low. Let cook 15 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the stock. Stir mixture without turning the chicken. Add the remaining cup of stock and cook for 10 more minutes until rice is done to taste.

Optional- last two minutes, turn pan on medium high and cook until a dark brown crust forms on the bottom of the rice (Lady Smokey is especially fond of how this makes a yummy crispy rice crust!). Remove pan from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. One pot wonder or serve with a side salad! Hot sauce is recommended. YUM!

Chicken Bog

One of our favorite tomato dishes we discovered the last couple of years is tomato gravy. Last night Grant had planned to make tomato gravy but we decided at the last minute to vary it and came up with this recipe which we served with asparagus, sauteed corn, and the most delicious little watermelon.

Tomato Smothered Pork 1Tomato Smothered Pork 2Tomato Smothered Chicken Fried Pork Chops
Serves 3

  • 3 boneless pork chops
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup grape seed oil
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 fresh tomatoes, chopped

Heat oven to 400 degrees. You will want to use an iron skillet (or wide, oven proof skillet). Mix buttermilk and spices together in a bowl. Soak pork chops in buttermilk mixture for about an hour. Heat skillet to medium heat. Add grape seed oil (enough to fill your skillet ¼ inch deep). In another bowl, mix flour with another dash of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Take the pork chops out of the buttermilk soak and place in flour mixture. Coat on both sides and place in skillet. Cook pork chops until golden brown on both sides (about 5 minutes on each side).

Move pork chops to sides of pan. Add 2 Tbsp flour to middle of pan and stir in, mixing flour thoroughly to the oil in the pan to form a rue. Once you have a nice rue formed, add 2-3 chopped tomatoes. Place iron skillet in the oven for 10 more minutes to finish the pork and give the tomatoes time to break down. Place pork chop on a plate and spoon the tomato gravy over top.

Tomato Smothered Pork 3

I will leave you with this classic recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes. Grant surprised me with a BLT with Fried Green Tomatoes sandwich one day. Whooooa! Amazing!

Fried Green Tomatoes

Grant’s Fried Green Tomatoes

  • green tomatoes, right off the vine
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/2 c fine corn meal
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Wash and slice tomatoes- not too thin or too thick. Mix the milk and egg together in one bowl. Mix the corn meal and flour with the spices. You may need to adjust the spices to taste. (Grant never measures anything so this is a guess but should get you close to perfection!) Dip the tomato slices in the egg mixture and then in the flour mixture. Fry in a frying pan coated with olive or grape seed oil.

BLT with Fried Green TomatoesIf you happen to be reading this post and you don’t live in the South, you might want to plan a trip during the summer months so you can experience the goodness of a real southern tomato! Happy eating y’all!