Tomato hornworms are those large green caterpillars that can strip a tomato plant of its leaves in just one day. They can also eat the tomatoes right off the vine.
These big caterpillars are intimidating because of their white racing stripes and a horn on their hind ends. Because their coloring is the same color as tomato leaves, they can be hard to spot in the vegetable garden.
But you’ll be sure to notice when you see large portions of tomato leaves suddenly disappearing from plants.
The typical gardening advice is to pick them off by hand and dispose of them in a bucket of soapy water or a paper bag to deposit in the trash or composter.
The Bug Chef is the award-winning author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2013) that includes a recipe for Fried Green Tomato Hornworms.
“What does a tomato hornworm taste like?” he asks.
“Well, what would you taste like if you’d been stuffing yourself solely with tomato leaves for the better part of a month? Hornworms, which are ridiculously rich in chlorophyll, taste great with just about any summer vegetable, but my favorite recipe draws inspiration from the cuisine of the Whistle Stop Cafe, that fictitious Alabama diner made famous by novelist Fannie Flagg.”
It only makes sense that tomato hornworms should be served with a batch of fried green tomatoes.
Here’s The Bug Chef’s recipe from his The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, reprinted with permission:
Fried Green Tomato Hornworms
(Yields 4 servings)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 32 tomato hornworms
- 4 medium green tomatoes, sliced into sixteen 1/4-inch rounds
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- White cornmeal
- 16 to 20 small basil leaves
1. In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the hornworms and fry lightly for about 4 minutes, taking care not to rupture the cuticles of each insect under high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Season the tomato rounds with salt and pepper to taste, then coat with cornmeal on both sides.
3. In another large skillet or wok, heat the remaining oil and fry the tomatoes until lightly browned on both sides.
4. Top each tomato round with 2 fried tomato hornworms.
5. Garnish with basil leaves and serve immediately.
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