Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"The Pat Conroy Cookbook - Recipes of My Life" by Pat Conroy - Baked Tomatoes with Rice

Date I made this recipe: May 9, 2007

The Pat Conroy Cookbook – Recipes of My Life by Pat Conroy with Suzanne Williamson Pollak
Published by: Nan A. Talese Doubleday
ISBN: 0-385-51413-1
© 2004

Recipe: Baked Tomatoes with Rice – p. 129

My mother-in-law belongs to a writing club and recently told my husband that she told all her club members about my blog. I’m expecting redlined versions of my previous blog postings any minute now (Kidding. They’re not that type of writing club. I think.).

At any rate, one of the club members is Minnesota poet, Phebe Hanson, author of Why Keep Dancing – 75 Years: 75 Poems. She and my in-laws have been friends for years and she is a frequent visitor to their home.

When this cookbook came out three years ago, Phebe was at “the house” and when I mentioned that I just purchased it, she oh-so-casually commented “I know Pat Conroy” to which I stupidly replied “Really?” (Big vocabulary I have)

“Really. In fact, we had lunch a couple of weeks ago.”

“Really?” (Again with the “really”) “Wow.”

Wow, indeed.

For those of you who don’t know, Pat Conroy wrote the popular book, The Prince of Tides which was made into a movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand (those finger nails--oy!!). The book is fantastic and was a favorite of my book club, but this was not my first experience with Pat’s writing.

When I was in junior high and high school, way before Barnes and Noble and Borders and even the internet, the only way to get books for extra-curricular reading was either through our limited school library or through school services like the Weekly Reader or Scholastic Books. Our teacher would circulate the order sheets and in a few weeks, voila, we were off on a reading adventure.

Over time, I ordered books like Jane Austen’s Emma, a book so thick that I used it to prop my door open, Anne Tyler’s A Slipping-Down Life and The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy.

The Water Is Wide chronicles Pat’s teaching experience in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. I can’t recall much about the book (it was published in 1972 when I was in the 8th grade) but I do recall that it was made into a movie starring Jon Voight (the movie was renamed “Conrak” because… ???--See Note Below) About the same time, the song, The Water is Wide became a hit on the high-school glee club circuit. Whether that is a coincidence of not, I cannot recall.

But I do recall, some 30-odd years later, the lovely lyrics to the song:

The water is wide. I cannot get o’er
And neither have I
Wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row
My love and I

Ah…takes me back to good times in glee-club and Music Makers, an after school chorus that I also joined, with Miss Gordanaire at the helm (we lovingly called her “Miss Gordanschmere”), trying to keep us giggly high school girls on track and focused on what we were singing. I’d say she did a good job if I can recall the words in a heartbeat after all this time…and yet, where I put my coffee cup that I just filled two seconds ago is anybody’s guess.

And so that’s the story of Phebe Hanson and Pat Conroy and The Water Is Wide and Pat’s Cookbook. The recipe is just icing on the cake or the topping on the tomato if you will.

This recipe was really good, really fast and really inexpensive. It summoned up recollections of when tomatoes really were tomatoes, not hot-house specimens like they are now, and when, before the Mississippi River (practically in my back yard) started shrinking, the water really was wide.

Baked Tomatoes with Rice – serves 4
4 medium tomatoes, about ½ pound each
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 cups rice cooked in chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Coarse or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes snugly.

Cut off the “cap” (a thin slice) from the top of each tomato and spoon out the pulp (being careful not to tear the walls.) (Note: good luck with that). Reserve ¾ cup of the pulp and discard remainder or save for another use. Invert the tomatoes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate high heat. Add the shallots and red pepper, cooking quickly until the edges begin to color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the reserved tomato pulp and reduce over medium heat until thickened, 4 to 6 minutes.

Stir in the rice and cook until the tomato is absorbed and the flavors marry, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the parsley, season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

When the mixture has cooled slightly, spoon the rice into the hollowed-out tomatoes and place in prepared baking dish.

Bake until heated through, 12 to 15 minutes. Check frequently, as overcooking will cause the tomatoes to split and fall apart. Serve 1 tomato per person.

NOTE: My friend, Melissa, set me straight on why the movie was named Conrak and it's because that's how the students pronounced Pat Conroy's last name. And Melissa says she has memory problems...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Because that's how it sounded when the kids on the island said, "Conroy." I loved that movie!