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Savannah Red Rice with Shrimp

Born in the heart of rich rice country some 300 years ago, red rice remains a much-loved Savannah standard to this day.  Simple as it appears, achieving the proper texture–neither gummy nor too dry–can be tricky. Long-grain rice is essential, as each grain should absorb the flavor-packed liquid while holding its shape. It can be cooked on the stovetop or, like this one, baked in the oven. I followed the method in Miriam Rubin’s wonderful little book, Tomatoes, from UNC Press’s Savor the South series, with great success. I especially like her suggestion of adding toasted pecans. Wanting to make this a hearty entrée, I went a step further and added shrimp. Once you master the basic method, you can take this classic in all sorts of directions. – Susan Puckett

Ingredients

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 thick or 4 thin bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
1 cup boiling reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 pound medium cooked, peeled shrimp (optional but good)
1 cup toasted and coarsely chopped pecans (optional but good)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the canned tomatoes into a colander set in a bowl. Press down lightly on each tomato to release the juice. Let drain for about 10 minutes, reserving the juice. Puree the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth (you should get about 1 3/4 cups. Add a little of the reserved juice if needed; discard or save the rest of the juice for another use.)

Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring often, until the fat is rendered, about 8 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the rice. Cook, stirring, reducing the heat if necessary, until the rice is coated and smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes, chicken broth, tomato paste, salt, thyme, and black and cayenne peppers. Stir well and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and stir well again. Cover with a lid, transfer to the oven, and bake until the rice is just tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 35-40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff well with a fork. Add shrimp, if using. Cover and let stand for another 5 minutes or until ready to serve. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with pecans, if using, and serve hot.