Exploring Ways to Use Sun-Dried Tomatoes
by Cyndy Crist
I think that Sally Schneider’s wonderful blog, The Improvised Life, has had a real impact on me. I’ve had both of her cookbooks, A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook, for years, but her almost daily dose of blog posts has heightened my awareness and appreciation of her approach to creativity in the kitchen and in life. More and more, I find myself looking at recipes as sources of ideas for cooking rather than “the way” to prepare a dish. Or, said another way, as starting points rather than itineraries.
Take sun-dried tomatoes. I’m seldom without them and usually have some packed in olive oil and others in their “natural” state in a jar or zip lock bag (for detailed information on how to dry your own, visit Dorothy’s farmtojar blog, which is associated with this blog). Too often I’ve only used sun-dried tomatoes when a recipe I wanted to try explicitly called for them. Now, I’m thinking about an array of possibilities, starting with three general approaches – butters, spreads, and pasta. And the more I let my mind wander, the more ideas are popping into my head. Here are just a few.
Sun-dried Tomato Butter. The inspiration for this came from a clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It directed me to whip softened butter until smooth and fluffy and then to add minced or pureed sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic, fresh thyme, lemon juice, pepper and salt (about 1 Tbsp each of thyme, lemon juice, and garlic to ¼ cup of tomatoes and 2 sticks of butter). I didn’t have any fresh thyme handy but did have fresh dill, so I used that instead. I also increased the proportion of tomatoes because I wanted a deeper flavor. The recipe suggested serving it on salmon, but I used it instead on pan-sauteed fresh cod. It was quick, easy, and delicious.
As I worked, some other possible flavor combinations with the tomatoes came to mind – basil and garlic stirred into spaghetti or angel hair pasta; the French mixture known as Fines Herbes (usually made with tarragon, chervil, chives, and parsley) on just about any vegetable that would be complemented, not overwhelmed, by the tomatoes; or tarragon and minced shallots on chicken breasts. Any of these combos also would be good spread on crackers or crusty bread (how yummy on a chicken or turkey sandwich or on toasted slices served with soup or salad), and I’ll bet it would also be good stirred into scrambled eggs.
Sun-dried Tomatoes in Spreads. My next approach was sparked by an article in the February 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living about a small New York City restaurant called Buvette. The restaurant sounds like a gem and so did the recipe for Buvette Pomodorini Tartines. The magazine gives directions for the pomodorini, a savory topping made from sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, capers, fresh oregano, sherry vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil, and then for constructing the tartine (the French name for an open-faced sandwich). The process is simple: first spooning Stracchino, a soft cow’s-milk cheese, onto toasted or grilled country bread and then topping it with pomodorini. My mouth was watering and I wanted to give it a try.
I was just lacking two of the ingredients – Stracchino and fresh oregano. I did have half a log of goat cheese in the refrigerator and thought it would be good with the pomodorini, if a bit tangier and less rich than a cow’s milk cheese. As for the oregano, I had a bunch of really great dried oregano, and since some of my favorite chefs favor dried over fresh for flavor, I thought that would be just fine. So I soaked and chopped the tomatoes, soaked the capers (what I had on hand was the salt-packed form), rubbed some oregano leaves and blossoms off the stems, smashed and finely minced the garlic, and mixed it together with the vinegar and EVOO. I did let it sit overnight to improve the oregano flavor (with the fresh herb, no more than an hour would have been needed). It was delicious with the goat cheese on salty crackers, and I can envision mixing the pomodorini with the goat cheese (or good fresh ricotta or even mascarpone) for a less messy cocktail hour spread.
I also found a recipe on Epicurious combining sun-dried tomatoes with a white bean puree that sounded really tasty. It suggested cooking the beans with onions and rosemary, then draining and mashing the potful and pureeing with sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, and a bit of fresh rosemary in a food processor before stirring in some good olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I’ve made a similar white bean spread to serve with wedges of pita bread and think the addition of sun-dried tomatoes would add both nice color and a deeper flavor. Garbanzo beans would also be good (think hummus), as would other herbs. And for lighter, more nutritious snacking, it would make a great dip with fresh veggies.
Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Pasta. Finally, the possibilities of combining sun-dried tomatoes with other ingredients and tossing with pasta seem almost endless. With this approach, you could make good use of the olive oil in which the tomatoes were jarred or use some of the water in which the dried tomatoes were soaked to finish the sauce. Here are some of the pairings I’m going to try, keeping notes on which I like the best:
- Mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, basil, and rigatoni
- Shrimp, peas, feta, mint, and farfalle
- Chicken, smoked mozzarella, thyme, and linguine
- Artichokes, black olives, oregano, and fusilli
- Spinach, white beans, rosemary, and orecchiette
- Bacon, onions, sage, and gemelli
I can envision most of these being equally delicious served hot or cold, the latter needing only a coating of good EVOO and vinegar, or perhaps fresh lemon juice, to create a tasty salad. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Think about what you like, see what you have on hand, and toss it together. You might just come up with one of the best combinations you’ve ever tasted!