Over the weekend, we were visited by dear friends who brought some sun dried tomatoes I had asked for from a great produce store in their area. I have a hard time finding them cheap enough to use without a pang of “wasteful foodie” guilt, so it was quite the kitchen blessing to have a whole pound of them at a great price.
The way I feel about sun dried tomatoes is that they are a special ingredient and should be played to their strengths. It’s easy enough to find not-dried (aka “regular”) tomatoes that there shouldn’t be any reason to use the sun dried variety in things like spaghetti sauce or chili or even most soups. You’ve gone to all the the trouble of getting the moisture out of (and some great flavor into) your tomatoes, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to drown them again or bury them amongst other flavors where a regular old tomato would do fine.
Where I think sun dried tomatoes shine is in simple applications that really bring out their warm, dense, earth-and-sunshine flavor without screwing with it too much. Things like hummus or mayonnaise or cream cheese are great canvases for the sun-dried flavor, and if you’re careful and know what you’re doing, a fantastic bread can do the trick as well. But my favorite application so far is “pesto”. I put pesto in quotes for the sake of any stalwart defenders of Italian terminology, since I’m sure “pesto” is probably really only about basil. But the term is also becoming synonymous with “delicious flavor paste”, so that’s the meaning I’m co-opting here.
I used dry rather than oil-packed tomatoes in this recipe, so if you have the jarred ones you can skip the soaking step (and use the oil from the jar in the recipe instead). We made fresh pasta for this dish, because we’re awesome (and we’re trying to keep up a reputation here, come on now) but obviously you could use dried. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg– this could easily be a kind of bruschetta/crostini spread, or the flavor base for some of the other ideas I mentioned above (hummus, bread, etc). You could mix it with ricotta and use as a filling for fresh filled pasta, or even work it into the pasta dough itself for some cool sun dried tomato noodles.
Regardless, you need to try it out. Here we go:
Sundried Tomato Pesto
1 cup dry sundried tomatoes (or a little more than 1 cup oil-packed)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup tightly-packed fresh basil
1/4 cup walnuts
a few tablespoons each olive oil and water
salt and pepper, maybe 1/2 tsp each
Cover your tomatoes with water and soak for 20-30 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Toast your walnuts gently in a shallow pan or in a 350° oven.
Drizzle in the olive oil and water (feel free to use some of the soaking water) and season to taste with the salt and pepper. The final consistency should be a fairly thick, uniform paste with little bits of everything still visible throughout.
To use in a pasta dish, first cook your pasta to a more or less al dente state of being. Drain and set aside. In a medium-hot saute pan, add a little oil and a few tablespoons of your sun-dried tomato pesto, followed by a healthy portion of pasta. Stir and mix with tongs over heat until the pesto has mixed in well and clings to the noodles. Garnish with parmesan or similar and some fresh basil.
That’s it! Enjoy, my foodie friends!