"Gardening" by Leslie Contreras Schwartz + Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes with Arborio Rice and Potatoes

My cookbooks have a new home. 

You see, summer snuck up on me for one rather monumental reason: we moved. The whole thing was somewhat unexpected, and the short story with the happy ending is we found a new place to call home and moved in record time (10 days to be exact). I'm tired just typing that. 

The unpacking, naturally, took a bit longer.

June was also the month spent reviewing the copyedits for my cookbook, so this season I've been all about simple cooking, and revisiting some old favorites. And because my cookbooks look all fresh and perky on the shelf, I've taken to pulling them down one by one, flipping through a section or two, and cooking my meals for the week from what I find inside. I'm so glad I've started doing this again. 

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

The most recent cookbook I've lost myself in is Rachel Roddy's My Kitchen in Rome. This one I was eager about from the start. It seems like so long ago now that Rachel announced she was even writing a cookbook, and I couldn't wait to order my copy. Sadly, we had to wait even longer for the U.S. version to arrive, but it was worth the extra months.

My Kitchen in Rome is beautifully written, truly. My remarks here likely do not do it justice. You should know that if you find yourself on the couch one afternoon, you will be transported to Italy and your heart might ache just a little bit when you realize you are actually not there.

But that is where food does its magic work, because I've been calling myself a Roman for the past couple of weeks by spooning beans over bread and stuffing the first tomatoes from my farmers' market. I've also been reading some poetry. Not as much as I should be, but enough to stumble across this lovely little poem.



by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

There is too much work:
the turning of soil,
the watering, and pulling
the bright green weeds that choke
and curl the fruit. I want only
the joy, the taste of tomatoes
pouring down my lips,
the sun on my throat.
I like the soil under my nails
but I feel forsaken, tricked.
I watch the garden fester
and dry out, the tomatoes
small and weakening in
the cracked bed. It is like my daughter,
who one day draws picture after picture
of rainbows, bursting hearts, spells “love”
backwards, sideways, forward, then
for days lies on the couch blinking
at television or just talking to herself,
her sister. Too much work, this joy,
the colors of fruit, the frothy soil,
too much sun and magic. We all
need retreat, to rest, to feel
sometimes that it will come to us
by itself, a heavy plate that
says this is all yours.


from FUEGO by Leslie Contreras Schwartz © 2016; ISBN:  978-0-9965231-5-8;
Saint Julian Press. Reprinted with permission from the author.

I can't think of a more perfect poem for the summer, and for my own particular season in life. First, wanting only the joy. I'm certain we all want this, though we're well aware of how life works. There are joys, then disappointments, then more joys, then a rough day, then a splendid one. This is the way of it. But I love how profound the ache is here, as if the speaker is on the brink of just giving up entirely, being ruthlessly honest.

Next, at the very end, the lines about needing to retreat, rest, to "feel sometimes that it will come to us / by itself." As someone for whom self-care is of the upmost importance, I resonate with these lines so much. Even when the tomatoes are ripe, and our days are filled with "sun and magic," it can all feel like too much work. Even the joys. Some days, this is true, but the poem ends on a hopeful note, doesn't it?

A hope that whatever it is we need most will find us when it's time. It's certainly a message I need to hear today, and perhaps I'm not the only one.

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes with rice and potatoes

Adapted lightly from My Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy

This makes a wonderful, leisurely lunch or light supper, but as Rachel is kind to remind home cooks, "good stuffed tomatoes do indeed come to those who wait." There is a fair amount of waiting with this dish. Waiting for the tomato shells to drain, waiting for things to bake, then waiting for the dish to rest and settle and cool down a bit. Do not begin this dish without knowing what's required, which, more than anything, is simply your time and a bit of care. I halved the recipe and used four tomatoes instead of eight, but you can certainly double this for a crowd or ample leftovers.

Serves 2

4 firm, large tomatoes
1 plump garlic clove, finely chopped
4 basil leaves, torn
5 tablespoons Arborio rice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus some extra for the potatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Yukon potatoes, peeled

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. One by one, hold the tomatoes over a bowl and scoop out their insides by gently scraping the interior with a spoon. Let the flesh, seeds, and juice fall into a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt in the cavity of each tomato, then place them cut-side down on a clean tea towel or paper towel-lined cutting board so excess liquid can drain.

Blend the tomato flesh, seeds, and juice in a blender; pout into a large bowl. To the tomato liquid, add the garlic, and basil. Next, add the rice and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper; stir. Leave to sit at least 45 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into 1-inch long matchsticks. Pout the potatoes into a bowl, pour a little oil over them, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss with your hands until well coated.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the hollowed-out tomatoes in a lightly greased baking dish. Spoon the rice inside until they are three-quarters full, then put the tops back on. (Sadly, I completely forgot to do this!) Scatter the potatoes around the tomatoes and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to shrivel. The rice should be plump and tender, and the potatoes soft and golden. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before eating. Pour yourself a glass of white wine while you wait.

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