Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Dear Friends,

Every time I open my freezer I’m reminded of how prolific my SunGold tomato plants were last summer. About a dozen zipper-lock bags of the sweet, sun-dried mini tomatoes lurk in wire baskets, boxes and crannies, in-your-face reminders to use them before the next crop arrives.

When I remember, I scatter a few in salads and occasionally use a couple of handfuls in lieu of sauce on a homemade pizza. But now it’s time to get serious. The daffodils are bursting into bloom, the hostas are peeking through the soil and a new crop of tomatoes will be here before you know it.

This week I hauled a couple of batches of sun-dried tomatoes from the freezer and set about creating a sun-dried tomato pesto. Recipes for the pasta sauce abound, but I had my own ideas about which ingredients would taste best with my SunGolds.

They aren’t really sun-dried tomatoes, by the way. They’re oven dried, and technically they aren’t even dry. As I’ve mentioned before, I half-dry the tomatoes just long enough to concentrate the flavor without turning  the things into tomato leather. Then I freeze. I tried packing them in oil one year, but that’s risky. The anaerobic properties of oil, plus lack of acid, creates an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, even botulism. The dried tomatoes I covered with oil one year became moldy, even though I stored the jar in the refrigerator.

Freezing is easier anyway, and my frozen half-dried tomatoes tasted fresh and sweet after I thawed them. I was determined to thicken my pesto with walnuts, which I thought would be a better choice than the typical pine nuts most recipes call for. I also added a judicious amount of garlic, plenty of grated Parmesan, a miserly amount of olive oil and one tablespoon of chopped Nicoise olives (small, wrinkled black olives with an intense flavor). The olives gave the pesto a mysterious undertone of flavor.

Tony wandered though the kitchen as I was scraping the fragrant sauce from the food processor to a bowl. He glanced at the reddish-brown sauce and wrinkled his nose, sensing maybe that his beloved spaghetti with meat sauce would be displaced by this newcomer.

Tony: “It doesn’t look good.”
Me: “It’s just for one meal, for crying out loud. Taste it.”
Tony: “Mm. But it doesn’t look good.”

Ok, so it isn’t Ragu. If that bothers any of you, try it anyway. Live it up. Your freezer will be the better for it.

MY OWN SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO

  • 2  large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tbsp. roughly chopped Nicoise olives
  • 3/4 cup half-dried tomatoes, thawed, or drained commercial sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. broken walnut pieces

Drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running. Add olives and tomatoes and puree until fairly smooth. Continue to puree while adding  oil through the feed tube. Process until smooth, adding more oil if necessary to produce a texture looser than a paste but thicker than a liquid. Add the Parmesan and walnut pieces and process until the nuts are chopped fairly fine but still provide some texture to the sauce. Makes 1 generous cup, enough to sauce about ¾ lb. of pasta.

Here’s a sophisticated way to use sun-dried tomatoes on pizza, from “The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook.”
 

PIZZA WITH SHRIMP AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

  • Dough or purchased crusts for 4 8-inch pizzas
  • 2 tbsp. hot chili oil
  • 1 cup grated fontina cheese
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup blanched garlic, chopped (see note)
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 lb. raw medium shrimp, peeled (about 20 to 24)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into slivers

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, preferably with a pizza stone inside. Shape the dough into four 8-inch circles and place on a lightly floured pizza peel (one at a time).

Brush each pizza with the chili oil and top each with a quarter of the fontina and mozzarella, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top each equally with the garlic, red onion, basil, shrimp and tomatoes. Slide the pizzas onto the pizza stone or baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. Slide onto warm plates and cut into wedges to eat. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To blanch garlic (and soften the flavor), cut off the tips of unpeeled garlic cloves. Place the garlic cloves in a small long-handled mesh strainer and dip into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl of ice water for 30 seconds. Repeat, then dry. The skins will slip right off.

HELP U COOK

I was confused for years about whether to boil or soak rice noodles. I figured I was getting rice noodles and cellophane noodles mixed up when I encountered different preparation techniques in Asian recipes. But rice noodles can be either boiled for soaked, depending on how you plan to use them. I’ve developed my own rule of thumb to simplify things in my own mind. If the noodles will be cooked further (in a stir-fry, for example) after the pre-cooking, I will merely soak them for 10 to 15 minutes in hot water, then drain. If the noodles will not be cooked further (in a cold noodle salad, for example), I will boil them for about five minute, just until tender.

THE MAILBAG

From Melanie:
Have you ever heard of hrudka? It is an Easter milk-egg mixture that you cook on top of the stove in a double boiler, then wrap in cheesecloth and twist into a ball to get the water out. My grandmother used to make it, and I remember eating it 50 years ago. Thanks.

Dear Melanie: Hrudka brings back memories of a college boyfriend of Slavic heritage who explained why he cheated on me in this lyrical fashion: “She’s someone new to tell old stories to.”
The creep  probably shared his mother’s hrudka with her, too.

But since your memories of hrudka are pleasant ones, I set aside my loathing for Dennis and located two recipes. They are from an interesting food blog, 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

Hrudka comes in sweet and savory versions, according to writer Allan Stevo. I hope your biceps are in good shape, because both are made by stirring a ton of eggs and some milk in a saucepan over low heat for 30 minutes. Sugar is added to the sweet version, while salt and pepper are added to the savory.     

The heat and the stirring cause the eggs and milk to lump together into curds, which are then hung in cheesecloth overnight to produce a soft, cheese-like treat that is sliced and served as a side dish or with dessert. Stevo’s recipes and photos can be found at http://www.52insk.com/2011/hrudka/.

From Dave:
I was cleaning out my freezer and wonder how long can I keep frozen foods?  Some are the steam-in-the-bag products.  I don’t think there is a date on the packages.  I do have veggies that I blanched and froze and I put a date on them.  Thank you.

Dear Dave: Because freezing prevents bacteria growth, frozen foods won’t spoil no matter how long they are in the freezer. Even if they’ve been in your freezer for years, they will be safe to eat. Whether you’d want to is another story. Frozen food can get freezer burn, dry out, and lose flavor, depending on how long it has been in the freezer and how well it was wrapped. If the food looks good, thaw it out and try it.

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