Many people, after they've bought sun-dried tomatoes or received them as a gift, are a little unsure of what to do with them. The most common way that they are used in the southern Italian regions of Calabria and Puglia is reconstituted and stored in olive oil, then eaten as an antipasto (appetizer before a meal) or as a snack, on lightly toasted slices of hearty, crusty bread.
You can also add them to sandwiches or salads, pasta salads, use them to top pizza or crostini, in pasta or risotto dishes, or to top Pugliese-style friselle.
Or you can substitute fresh tomatoes in bruschetta with chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, for a version that won't make the toasted bread soggy as quickly. It's a better version, in fact, for outdoor picnics, potlucks or any other occasion where they won't be eaten right away.
- About 40 sun-dried tomato halves, store-bought or homemade
- White wine vinegar ( about 2-3 cups)
- Clean, tightly sealing glass jar, large enough to hold tomatoes and oil (approximately 20 oz/550 g capacity)
- 3-4 cups of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Optional flavorings and additions: 1 tablespoon pitted, oil-cured olives or salt-cured capers (well rinsed and dried), 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, basil, mint or marjoram, a pinch of dried red chile pepper flakes
- * * FOOD SAFETY NOTE: Some people also like to add garlic or fresh herbs. I generally avoid submerging garlic and fresh herbs in oil -- unless it's for immediate consumption, or within 1-2 days maximum -- because of the risk of botulism. Tomatoes are acidic, which makes them far less likely to be dangerous when stored in oil, and the vinegar used to rehydrate them in this recipe acidifies them even more. For additional safety, you can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the olive oil when storing. I don't mean to be alarmist because botulism is rare and the risk is small, however, it is so serious (potentially fatal) and cannot be detected by taste and smell, that it is best to err on the safe side. Also be sure to store these tomatoes packed in oil in the refrigerator, where they'll be fine for several months. Do not store them at room temperature, unless you have gone through the process of sterilizing your jar and vacuum-sealing it, a complicated and precise process I will not go into for this recipe!
- Reconstitute/rehydrate the tomatoes by simmering them briskly in a large pot in a 50/50 mixture of water and red wine vinegar until they are plump, but still have some chew, about 5-10 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and let sit for another 3-5 minutes so the tomatoes can soften a bit more.
- Drain them well, spread them on a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels, and pat them completely dry with another paper towel. While they need to be rehydrated in order to be the right consistency so that they'll be pleasant to eat, you also need to remove as much excess water as possible to avoid premature spoilage.
- Transfer the tomatoes to your glass jar and add any seasonings that you're using (please see suggestions above, as well as the important food-safety note), layering them with the tomatoes. Press them down a bit and fill the jar with olive oil. Make sure that the tomatoes are completely covered in oil.
Store in the refrigerator for up to about 3 months. They will improve in flavor and texture over time, and are best to start using after waiting at least 24 hours. Italians typically wait a month before using them. I personally find it hard to resist that long!