Sun-dried tomatoes have come a long way since the 16th century, when they were introduced to Italy from the New World. Although they were still considered a gourmet item a decade ago, I am grateful that nowadays they can be found at a local grocery store.
Towards the bitter end of this interminable winter, don’t rely on soulless “hothouse tomatoes,” which generally don’t taste as good as naturally-grown ones. Hold yourself over ‘til July, when you can enjoy the real deal. For now, sun-dried tomatoes can fill your nutritional, budgetary, and creative cooking needs.
Some Sun-Dried History.
Tomatoes were originally sun-dried so that people could enjoy them throughout the year, even without refrigerators, freezers, and modern ovens. It takes 20 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes to create one pound of dried tomatoes, yet a serving of organic dried tomatoes will only set you back about 20 cents. (I say “dried” instead of just sun-dried, since you can also buy or make oven-dried tomatoes, which tend to have a darker color and a bit of sweetness due to natural caramelization.)
Which Kind Of Dried Tomato Is Best?
Sun-dried tomatoes are sold either soaked in oil or as a dried product. I recommend buying them dry and reconstituting in hot water for about 20 minutes. (You can store the dried tomatoes in the pantry, fridge, or freezer for up to a year.) Save the flavored liquid left over from reconstituting the tomatoes so you can add it to future sauces, stocks, and soups. Although the presoaked kind looks nice and plump, they are usually soaked in low-quality oil. Soak the revitalized tomatoes in olive oil for about two hours before you need to use them, or keep a jar in the fridge fully covered with olive oil for easy access. Before indulging, set the jar out in room temperature so the oil comes to its natural state.
Way More Nutritious Than You’d Think.
Like tomatoes from the vine, sun-dried tomatoes are high in lycopene, antioxidants, and potassium, and vitamins A and C. They’re also low in sodium and calories, and free of saturated fat and cholesterol. Sun-dried tomatoes are lipophilic, which means that cooking them with some fat, like olive oil, actually increases their nutritional value.
Let Them Take A Leading Role In Your Next Dish.
Sun-dried tomatoes are generally used more in the U.S. as an ingredient than as a staple (like they are in Italy), since a little goes a long way because they are so concentrated. That said, try letting sun-dried tomatoes take a leading role next time you cook dinner. Make a sun-dried tomato pesto to top a piece of chicken or fish and simply roast it. Add the pesto to goat cheese for a classy spread, slather on a sandwich, or swirl into soup. Chop soaked sun-dried tomatoes and add them to salads, quick bread or biscuit batter, vegetables, omelets, and vinaigrettes. There are so many possibilities that you shouldn’t run out of new combinations before the new season comes and the whole harvest arrives.
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.
Makes 1.75 cups; 10 minutes.
1 garlic clove, minced
2 oz Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 1/2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
1/3 cup walnuts, blanched almonds, or cashews, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
About 2/3 cup olive oil
About 2 dozen oil-soaked sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Combine garlic, Parmesan, capers, nuts, and thyme in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add black pepper, pepper flakes and tomatoes. While the processor is on, add oil through the feed. Combine until thick paste forms.