On the phone with mom the other day I felt like a triple dirtbag. 1) I got super busy and didn't call her on her birthday. 2) I remembered as I was falling asleep that I needed to call her in the morning to make up for it, but then I overslept and was late and it slipped my mind. 3) Now I'm on the phone with my mom two days late and apologizing for not calling her on her birthday or the day after. Triple dirtbag. Then she lays this on me, "I've been reading your food blog. You're getting a little too precious with it."
A too-precious triple dirtbag. I hang my head.
So this one's for my ma, who taught me by example that you can make dinner out of whatever is in the pantry plus whatever anybody happened to bring home dead, to not waste anything, and now how not to be precious. Mom always bought in bulk and stored things in the freezer because you never know when you're going to need something, and that's a habit I've picked up as well.
I was responsible for a side dish for the buffet at the Mydyette-Hunter Thanksgiving feast, and not knowing precisely what people would want to eat, I got it in my head to make some stuffed baked tomatoes. Seemed like nobody could really object to a tomato. For the stuffing I imagined a savory pilaf, nothing too heavy. I started the rice by sweating some onion and garlic in a sauce pan with olive oil, then added the rice, some saffron, water and Vegeta. I didn't have any stock. Shame on me for not having stock. For normal fluffy rice I use 2 parts liquid to one part rice, but this was going to be cooked twice, so I cut the liquid back by about a third. I wanted the rice to be al dente when I stuffed the tomatoes with it so it would absorb the cooking juices from the tomato to complete its hydration.
In preparation I had got a bunch of hothouse tomatoes, so I cut the tops off them to make little hats and saved the tops on a wet paper towel in the fridge. I cut around the perimeter of each one to a depth of about an inch and a half, then hollowed out the insides with a spoon. I saved the insides in a big bowl and salted them to get the liquid to render. I'd need the liquid later.
When the rice was done to the point I could use it, I dumped it into a big mixing bowl to cool off, and added a bunch of chopped cashews. I tasted the mixture and it was good, but could use a little more complexity, so I went to the freezer, where I keep the pine nuts I buy in bulk (thank you mom), put a handful of pine nuts on the fire with some butter and browned them, then added them to the rice. They were toasty delicious. When the rice mixture was cool enough to handle, I chopped a couple of scallions, some cilantro and a bunch of mint leaves and stirred them in along with some olive oil and crushed Mexican oregano. The rice was a little too firm for easy packing into the tomatoes, so I ladled some tomato liquor from the bowl of middles into the rice to loosen it. I also tried a sip of the tomato liquor and it was delicious. Maybe Devin can devise another cocktail with it and open franchises in New Orleans. Sell them in big tomato-shaped goblets all shaved ice and rimmed with Old Bay. Call it a Tomatogarita or a Hurri-Tomatocane or a Mai-Tomato-Tai. Hang them off the necks of revelers with a lanyard and a long bendy straw. Have a mascot like the Kool-Aid man except a big tomato guy. People need work, why not. Franchise people in New Orleans call me.
I stuffed the tomatoes with the rice and arranged them in a shallow baking dish. I put the dish in the fridge to wait for morning, but reserved four of them for Heather's dinner. Those four went into a small tin and got baked in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes covered in foil. When they were soft and giving, I doused them with another little shot of the tomato liquor to refresh the rice, then shredded some parmigiano on top, drizzled them with olive oil and browned them under the broiler for a few minutes. To balance them on the plate, I cut some croutons from some leftover skillet soda bread I made after watching Jacques Pepin do it on TV.
The tomatoes were delicious. The hot, astringent juice made a perfect compliment to the sturdy, rich interior, and the par-cooked rice didn't degenerate into mush. The tomatoes I cooked for Thanksgiving got a little mound of bread crumb mix made of panko, parmigiano, olive oil and black pepper instead of the cheese, and it browned to a nicer effect, adding a crisply toasted element. I had intended to put the little tomato hats back on for presentation but forgot all about them. If anybody has a suggestion for what to do with the little tomato hats, please let me know.* When we ate the tomatoes at Thanksgiving, I heard from the other guests about a supposed pine nut shortage that had recently crippled kitchens all over, and felt an unusual pride in having learned to buy in bulk.
Thank you mom, and happy birthday.
Mom in Hawaii for our wedding. We bought in bulk.
*You get a little tomato hat with your Tomatogarita.