“Sun Dried” Tomatoes & Basil pesto
About 8 years ago I tried a sandwich that changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic, and I’m probably exaggerating slightly, but it definitely changed my life as much as a sandwich possibly could! It was from a restaurant called Tiny’s No 5 in Houston. Ive probably mentioned it before but what can I say… it’s amazing. They make the BEST chocolate chip cookies I’ve EVER had, the best blueberry pancakes, the best fries, the best lemonade, the best aioli, just the best of everything. So when I tried this specific sandwich, The French Countryman, I did not think I liked sun dried tomatoes, basil, arugula, or goat cheese. I was insane… obviously. I had only tried things like basil from an unrefrigerated jar from the grocery store, and had written them off in my mind as being horrible. When I tried this sandwich, all the doors were opened to me for foods I had thought I hated! I realized it wasn’t the type of food I hated but rather, how well it was made or at the very least how fresh it was. Goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and pesto are possibly 3 of my most favorite flavors now.
I started making my own pesto years ago when I realized I didn’t like any that were premade. I usually keep my pesto very simple for freezing but if I have pine nuts or parmesan on hand, I might include them. Even just basil, olive oil, and garlic is better than any pesto you’ll buy at your average grocery store (at least in my area) and that’s how I often make it.
Most “sun dried” tomatoes you see weren’t actually dried in the sun anymore. I know that takes away all the romance. But when it came time for me to decide how to dry mine, I also decided to go the oven route. I’d love to make a set up for sun drying some day, and show my kids how it was done originally, but this year the flies are horrible and I didn’t have time for that. Plus everything I read suggested that oven drying is extremely comparable to sun drying, as far as flavor. As for the type of tomatoes you use, a lot of people would suggest paste tomatoes but I used all the heirloom varieties I had on hand. I opted for the easiest drying style and just cut my tomatoes in half but sliced tomatoes would dry faster. My smaller tomatoes dried much faster than my large ones, so I just had to check back every couple hours to see which ones were done. If you wanted to have them all get done at the same time, you could just cut them all to similar sizes. I turn my oven off and on throughout the drying process. I usually let them sit over night in the oven with it turned off.
I like to pack my dried tomatoes in oil and freeze it. They are acidic enough that you can dip them in vinegar before packing them in oil and then water bath seal them for pantry storage but freezing them is easier for me. I also freeze my pesto. I’m sure some people say you can pressure can it but don’t do it! Seriously, that heat would change the basils flavor and I don’t know about everyone else, but for me it wouldn’t be worth eating after that. I like to freeze mine in 4 oz jars but I may freeze in ice cube trays this year for storage in a freezer bag.
When you thaw pesto for use, never apply heat. Either let them thaw in the fridge, on the counter, or you can put it in water if you need it to move faster. The tomatoes could stand being thawed in the microwave if necessary. You should ideally use them within a few days of thawing them, especially the pesto because of the garlic. I’m not one to care about expired food but I’m not going to play around with botulism!
Sun Dried Tomatoes
As many tomatoes as you would like to dry
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Wash and halve tomatoes or slice to your preferred size. Remove the seeds. Place the tomatoes on a non-stick cookie sheet or pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt to taste and put on some of your favorite sprigs of herbs. I like thyme but oregano or rosemary would be good too.
Bake until tomatoes have a leathery texture. For large halves this may take up to 24 hours.
Pack into jars and fill with EV olive oil or put directly into freezer bags for storage.
4 cups packed Fresh basil leaves
1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
6 - 8 Garlic cloves
1/2 tsp Salt (or more)
1/2 cup Pine nuts or walnuts
1/2 cup Parmesan
Place the basil, garlic, and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend until there are no large pieces left.
Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse several times.
While the processor is running, slowly add the EV olive oil.
Stir in salt and add more to taste.
Pack into jars, cover with a small amount of oil to keep the basil from browning, and store in the freezer for a year (or more) or in the refrigerator for 1 week or so.