Sun-dried tomatoes have been a staple of Italian cooking for generations. But until they emerged on the menus of chic restaurants in this country a few years ago, many of us had not heard of them. Anyone who has tasted them knows sun-dried tomatoes are here to stay. They lend a special intensity and ``zing'' to tomato sauce, pasta, salads - and as toppings on pizza, Italian bread, and English muffins.
Marinated and sun-dried tomatoes are simply dried tomato halves packed in bulk, or in jars with olive oil and a few herbs and spices.
To use sun-dried tomatoes in cooking, you might want to soak them in warm water for 20 minutes to soften them. They can be pur'eed, cut into strips, diced, or used whole in soups, stews, and sauces.
Because of the labor required to prepare them and the cost of the oil they are packed in, sun-dried tomatoes are expensive, especially if packed in extra virgin olive oil or in fancy jars. They cost about $13 a pound in bulk and $10 for a 7-ounce jar.
There is a way to circumvent the expense, however, by sun-drying or oven-drying the tomatoes in your own kitchen. Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes 3 to 4 pounds ripe Italian plum tomatoes Salt Distilled white vinegar Olive oil Basil, rosemary, or thyme, fresh or dried
Wash tomatoes. Dry and cut off stem end. Cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds (optional) with tip of knife. (Larger tomatoes should be cut in quarters.)
Place cut side up on rack and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover with cheesecloth supported on water glasses at corners to keep cloth from touching tomatoes. Place in sun until dried out and darkened (2 to 3 days), turning two or three times a day. Bring indoors at night to avoid dampness.
When partly dried, flatten with knife or spatula and continue drying.
When they are shriveled, sprinkle lightly with vinegar. Toss quickly and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
Pack in pint jars. Cover completely with olive oil, add a bit of basil, rosemary, or thyme, and seal tightly and store in a cool place 3 to 4 weeks before using. Homemade Oven-Dried Tomatoes 2 pounds plum or cherry tomatoes 1 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves, crushed 1 large clove garlic, peeled
Wash and dry tomatoes. With sharp paring knife, remove and discard stem ends.
Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on rack in jellyroll pan. Bake about 12 hours, or until tomatoes are dried but not hard.
In a 1-pint jar, combine oil, basil, and garlic. Add tomatoes. Stir to mix well.
Tomatoes can be used at once or covered and stored in refrigerator or cool, dry place. (Remove garlic after 1 week.) Makes 11/2 cups. Marinated Sun-Dried Tomatoes 15 sun-dried tomatoes 1 small red chili pepper, crumbled 1 clove garlic 2 bay leaves 4 black peppercorns 1 tablespoon pine nuts (optional) 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place tomatoes in a large bowl and cover with lukewarm water. Let sit for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain and dry thoroughly on paper towels.
In small, clean Mason jar, place half the chili pepper, the garlic, 1 bay leaf, 2 peppercorns, and 1/2 tablespoon of the pine nuts.
Put half the tomatoes into the jar. Cover with 1/4 cup olive oil, then add the remaining ingredients and cover with the remaining oil. (The oil should come to the top of the jar.) Add additional oil if needed.
Let sit for 24 hours before using. Sun-Dried Tomato-English Muffin Snack 4 English muffins, halved 4 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Toast muffins 4 inches from heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Spread each half lightly with mustard. Place on baking sheet.
Sprinkle each half with equal amounts of cheese. Broil 4 inches from heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese just melts.
Place chopped sun-dried tomatoes around edge of muffin. Broil another 30 seconds to heat through. Serve at once.
Serves 4 as main dish or provides 6 to 8 snack servings.
Angel Hair Pasta With Sun-Dried Tomatoes 1 cup olive oil from sun-dried tomatoes* 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips 11/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper or to taste 1 pound ``angel hair'' pasta
In food processor or blender container, combine 1/4 cup of olive oil with 1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes and cayenne pepper.
Process until tomatoes become rough paste. In a bowl, combine paste with remaining olive oil.
Cook ``angel hair'' according to package directions. Drain.
Gently toss pasta in a large bowl together with the oil-tomato paste mixture. Scatter remaining sun-dried tomato strips over the top. Let stand for several hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8 as first course.
Note: If you don't have enough flavored oil, add enough olive oil to make 1 cup. Chicken Breasts With Sun-Dried Tomatoes 8 chicken breasts, boned, left whole with
skins on 8 teaspoons tarragon mustard 8 scallions, white part only 16 whole sun-dried tomatoes Paprika Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread 1 teaspoon of mustard over boned side of each chicken breast. Put 1 scallion and 2 sun-dried tomatoes in center of each breast.
Fold top and bottom of each chicken breast over about 1 inch, then roll up breast from the side.
Put each stuffed breast, seam side down, in a lightly buttered shallow roasting pan, large enough to hold the chicken comfortably. Sprinkle tops with paprika, salt, and pepper.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until breasts are golden brown on top. Serve immediately.