In the American South cornmeal is often used to coat oysters, catfish, and chicken before frying them, but this dish, with its crunchy exterior and red-ripe, smooth tomato inside, becomes very Mediterranean. It would be a waste to use extra virgin olive oil for frying the tomatoes, but regular olive oil will impart more flavor than plain vegetable oil.
Yield: SERVES 6
9 large ripe but firm plum tomatoes (about 1¾ pounds)
½ cup polenta or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
SLICE THE TOMATOES crosswise about ½ inch thick. Discard or eat the very top and bottom slices. Mix the polenta, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and parsley in a shallow soup bowl and dredge the tomato slices evenly in the mixture, pressing the coating to make it stick to the cut surfaces of the tomatoes.
IN A LARGE HEAVY NONSTICK SKILLET, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is very hot but not smoking. Add as many tomato slices as you can without crowding the pan, and sauté for about 3 minutes. Turn the slices to the other side and sauté for another 3 minutes, or until golden. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt, and keep warm in a low oven while you finish frying the other tomatoes. Serve warm.