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Fried Green Tomatoes delight at the Vine in San Clemente

Photography by Palph Palumbo

Any gardener will tell you that growing your own tomatoes is the gateway to more gardening. Why? Nowhere else is the difference in flavor between homegrown and store-bought produce so starkly evident. A good tomato is a revelation; a bad one tastes like ketchup-flavored cardboard.
At Vine in San Clemente, long rows of tomatoes grow right behind the restaurant. In springtime, the plants climb skyward; by midsummer they’re heavy with fruit – still green. It’s at this point that Chef Jared Cook begins eying them closely. Continuing the recent trend of riffing on comfort foods, Cook mashes up two beloved uses of the green tomato: battered and fried like they do in the Southern U.S., and paired with burrata cheese south Italy-style. Fused together, the dish feels both soothing (it is fried, after all) and garden fresh. The crisp tomato and a few pickled onions brighten the rich burrata, while any heaviness is eased by frisée and herbs (also taken from the garden). The dish is tied together by a slightly piquant Romesco sauce and drizzled with oregano oil. Atop this pile, a few pieces of crisped Serrano ham throw a wink at the BLT (another tomato-based classic) while adding smoky flavor and a satisfying crunch.
The ability to pull off this complicated synthesis is what makes being a chef an art: combining technique and creativity; spinning old standards into something new. With his version of fried green tomatoes, Cook is doing exactly that. The results showcase his skill, inventiveness and deep appreciation for the beautiful tomatoes grown just steps from his kitchen.
:: VineSanClemente.com

Chef Jared Cook’s - Vine Hazelnut Romesco

5 medium Roma tomatoes
1 12-ounce can roasted Spanish piquillo
1 slice ciabatta bread, half-inch thick, toasted
   and cut into cubes
1 cup peeled hazelnuts (toasted)
½ cup Marcona almonds (toasted)
1 tablespoon honey
2 ounces sherry vinegar
1 large head garlic (peeled cloves left whole)
2 cups good-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano leaves

•    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
•    Cut tomatoes into halves. Remove cores.
•    In a medium mixing bowl, toss tomato halves and garlic cloves with just enough olive oil to coat. Place on sheet pan or large sauté pan. Roast in oven until very browned and caramelized. About 30-45 min, depending on your oven.
•    When tomatoes and garlic are done, scrape into blender.
•    Place all other ingredients except olive oil into blender and puree thoroughly.
•    Stream in olive oil on medium speed.
•    Taste for seasoning.

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