I once loathed sun-dried tomatoes. It’s a hangover from the 80’s; that time when leg warmers and shiny lycra tights were considered streetwear and anyone wanting to stake their claim on haute cuisine found a way to sneak a sundried tomato into just about anything from a canapé to a custard. It wasn’t just a food trend, it was outright abuse. I distinctly remember one family gathering where, with the coy shrug of a 2-inch shoulder pad, my aunt proudly presented a brie gateau for dessert. It was a huge wheel of French brie, sliced in half horizontally and filled with fresh basil leaves and an inch of sun-dried tomatoes like a thick layer of jam in a Victoria sponge. Admittedly, it did look quite impressive and any Italian would have blushed with pride upon seeing the colours of their flag layered into a cheese ‘cake’, but… I strongly suspect the French fromagerie that produced that wheel of brie would have wept in their whey if they knew it had been quite literally raped by 3 jars of cheap sun-dried tomatoes and a bunch of basil.
I’d wager a bet that the spread of sun-dried tomatoes (SDT’s) was second only to STD’s in the 80’s. Their abuse became so widespread that renowned London three-star chef Nico Ladenis proudly proclaimed his professional integrity in an American Express advertisement simply titled: “I have never used a sundried tomato.” Frankly, I tend to sit in Nico’s camp. The reputation of sun-dried tomatoes is still, quite justifiably, questionable at best, but just like any Adele single, if the radio stops playing it long enough, there’s every possibility you might listen to it again one day and actually enjoy it— like you did the first time you heard it.
For the best sun-dried tomatoes, source authentic unsalted southern Italian Roma tomatoes from Puglia or organic sun-dried tomatoes from California. The cheaper leathery, sulfur dioxide laden varieties tend to be quite unyielding and generally too intense and acrid in flavor.
Sun-dried tomatoes can be a bully in a bowl of pasta or risotto, elbowing out the more delicate flavours with a king hit of concentrated flavour, so err with caution; they need to be teamed with other heavyweights that can hold their own. The rule of thumb is always less is most definitely more when it comes to quantity with sun-dried tomatoes.
So, assuming you have a jar of marinated sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge (recipe follows) how do you use them?
Here are some ideas from the CM kitchen and some of our favorite blogs:
- Bruschetta Caprese: scantly rub toasted slices of bread with raw garlic. drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and top with torn buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and finely sliced marinated sun-dried tomatoes.
- Sun-dried polenta squares I love this recipe from Clothilde at C&Z. A delicious way of incorporating a hit of intense tomato flavor into a savory French apéro snack; the perfect balance between crispy, soft and salty.
- Tapenade. Blitz sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, basil and olive oil and some black olives in a blender.
- Red pesto ravioli; 101 cookbooks beautiful walnut-studded tomatoey goodness. Pure comfort food.
- Sun-dried tomato chicken florentine pasta. I love this Pinch of Yum recipe. Creamy, chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes with a cheesy finish.
- Sun-dried tomato, basil and white bean burgers. Food 52’s burger recipe is brilliant. Light, delicious and utterly Moorish.
- Scallops with capers and sun-dried tomatoes. Salty, sweet and creamy; it’s an all in one perfect dish from Epicurious.
- Stuffed chicken breasts. Make a pocket in the middle for chicken breasts and stuff with sun-dried tomato tapenade and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper and wrap the chicken breast in pancetta. Place on a baking tray and top with a tin of tomato passata and torn mozzarella. Bake until the chicken is cooked through.
- Chickpea, sun-dried tomato and artichoke salad. This simple earthy salad from Deliciously Ella is divine. A great store cupboard salad, ready in a flash!
- Olive, onion and sun-dried tomato focaccia. Bold flavors, beautiful bread to break with friends over a bottle of red wine in the sun.
- Sun-dried tomato meat marinade. A great flavor-packed marinade for summer BBQ’s from The Spruce.
- Take one crunchy French baguette, spread generously with fresh creamy ricotta, top little gem lettuce leaves, a few marinaded sun-dried tomatoes and as many anchovies as you are game to eat. Its a winner, trust me!