Intense tomatoes

The vegetable that’s become a staple in our pantries.

Cherry tomatoes Mahane Yehuda (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Cherry tomatoes Mahane Yehuda
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Many flavorful foods we enjoy today were developed in order to preserve ingredients.
One such food is sun-dried tomatoes.
The concentrated flavor of sun-dried tomatoes makes them a tasty complement to pasta, grains, mixed salads and spreads such as broiled eggplant salad. (See recipe) We love them in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce that we make by simmering them in cream with broth and garlic.
The sauce gains a deep tomato flavor and a pale pink color from the dried tomatoes and is delicious with ravioli, asparagus and baked fish.
We discovered how versatile sun-dried tomatoes can be a couple of decades ago when our garden had an overabundance of tomatoes and we dried plenty of them. Some use a food dehydrator or a very low-heat oven to dry tomatoes, but we dried our tomatoes in the sun; we cut cherry and other small tomatoes in half, covered them with cheesecloth (to protect them from birds) and dried them on the roof.
Every night we brought them inside so they wouldn’t become damp. They took a few days to dry until they were leathery but still pliable. Our dried tomatoes were so delicious that we ate them on their own as a snack. Since then, dried tomatoes have become a staple in our pantry.
“Use dried tomatoes like herbs,” is the recommendation in Preserving Summer’s Bounty, edited by Susan McClure. “Crumble them... in sauces or in dressings for a sweet, rich flavor.”
If you have dry-packed tomatoes and want to marinate them in olive oil to enrich and tenderize them, “pour a mixture of equal parts vinegar and boiling water over them and let them sit for a few minutes until they soften to a chewy consistency. Drain and cover with olive oil seasoned with a sliver of garlic. Let them marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours before sampling. They’ll keep fine refrigerated in this oil for about a month.”
Like olives, anchovies and pungent cheeses, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes are convenient for making quick, flavorful dishes. When time is short, you can have an entree on the table quickly by tossing them with cooked pasta, olive oil, parsley and garlic. Other easy toppings that we like for pasta or grains are oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes combined with avocado, tuna and garlic; and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes with roasted peppers from a jar, grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Lisa Mooney of Mooney Farms in northern California, whom we met at the Produce Marketing Association’s convention in Anaheim, California, told us about her family’s Bella Sun Luci kosher sun-dried tomatoes, which come dry-packed or bottled in olive oil.
Her family loves sun-dried tomato humous, made by blending canned chickpeas and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes with garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil; the bright orange-hued humous is garnished with olives and fresh basil leaves. They also make dried tomatoes into a creamy vinaigrette for green salad by blending them with red wine vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped green onion, salt, pepper and a generous amount of chopped fresh basil.
Sun-dried tomatoes are useful in recipes in which you want the flavor of tomatoes without their liquid. Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes, makes sundried- tomato butter by blending oil-packed dried tomatoes and butter with shallots, fresh thyme and black pepper; she spreads it on slices of baguette and tops it with Brie cheese, or uses it to enhance roasted asparagus, steamed green beans or broccoli.
To make a summer appetizer, Jordan mixes cream cheese with pureed dried tomatoes and stuffs ripe baby tomato halves with the mixture. For chicken sandwiches, potato salads and deviled eggs, she makes dried-tomato dressing by mixing pureed dried tomatoes into mayonnaise.
In certain dishes we like to combine dried and fresh tomatoes as they are so different in character. To make double-tomato pasta salad, we toss cooked fusilli with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil and wine vinegar (See recipe).
To store oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, Mooney recommends pushing the tomatoes down in the jar so they’ll be covered with olive oil, or adding more olive oil to keep them covered so they’ll remain pliable. If the olive oil solidifies in the refrigerated jar, bring the jar to room temperature before serving and the oil will liquefy.
The writer is the author of Sensational Pasta.
Eggplant Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
This salad begins like baba ghanouj but is flavored with sundried tomatoes and olive oil instead of tahini. Serve it with pita or with crusty French or whole-grain bread.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 680 gr. (about 1½ pounds) small eggplants ❖ 1 garlic clove, minced ❖ 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste ❖ 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste ❖ 3 Tbsp. chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, plus a few strips for garnish ❖ About 1 to 2 tsp. oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes (optional) ❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste ❖ Cucumber slices (for garnish)
Prepare grill with medium-hot coals, or preheat broiler. Prick each eggplant with a fork. Grill or broil, turning a few times with tongs, about 20 minutes or until eggplants look collapsed, their skins blacken and their flesh is very tender. Let eggplants stand until cool enough to handle.
Cut off eggplant caps. Halve eggplants and drain off any liquid inside. Scoop eggplant flesh out of skins with a large spoon, scraping to remove all of the flesh.
Chop eggplant finely with a knife, leaving a few small chunks. Transfer to a bowl. Add garlic without mixing; pour the lemon juice and olive oil over the garlic and then mix it into the eggplant. Add chopped sundried tomatoes, oil from their jar, salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice, olive oil, salt or pepper if needed.
Let stand 1 hour for flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature, garnished with a few strips of sundried tomatoes. Serve in a bowl set on a platter, with cucumber slices around the edge.
Double-Tomato Pasta Salad
This pasta salad is made with fresh and dried tomatoes. You can serve it warm as soon as the pasta is cooked, or make it a day ahead and bring it to room temperature before serving. If you would like a richer salad, add 2 diced hard boiled eggs, 1 to 2 cups shredded cooked chicken, 1 diced avocado or 1 cup small cubes of feta or mozzarella cheese.
If you like, use 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes as part of the oil in the dressing; leave enough oil in the jar to cover the remaining tomatoes.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 225 gr. (½ pound) pasta spirals or fusilli ❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste ❖ 4 to 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil ❖ 1 Tbsp. herb vinegar or wine vinegar ❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) ripe tomatoes, diced ❖ cup chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes ❖ 2 Tbsp. chopped green onion ❖ 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley ❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped or slivered fresh basil
Cook pasta, uncovered, in large pan of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain pasta, rinse briefly with cold water and drain well. Transfer to a bowl. Add 4 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Add fresh and dried tomatoes.
A short time before serving, add green onion, parsley and basil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add more oil if needed. Serve warm or cool.
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
This recipe is from The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes. Author Michele Anna Jordan notes that this savory sauce freezes well and makes not only a great sauce for pasta but also an excellent topping for pizza, focaccia and polenta. When serving it with pasta, she adds chopped toasted walnuts to the final dish – about 2 tablespoons per serving.
Makes about 2 cups
❖ 1 cup dried tomato bits ❖ 1½ cups (packed) fresh basil leaves ❖ ½ cup (packed) fresh parsley sprigs ❖ 4 to 6 cloves garlic ❖ 1 tsp. finely minced lemon zest ❖ 2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature, or olive oil (optional) ❖ 1 tsp. kosher salt ❖ ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese ❖ ½ to ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place the dried tomato bits in a small container and add enough boiling water to just cover them. Let them cool to room temperature.
Place the basil, parsley, garlic, lemon zest, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients form a relatively smooth mixture. Add the cooled dried tomato bits and cheese and pulse again 2 or 3 times. Add the olive oil, using the full amount for a looser sauce.
Transfer the pesto to a bowl or jar.
You can use the sauce immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.