Unless you've got a jar or two in the pantry, it's likely that there aren't enough sun-dried tomatoes in your life. These dense little red packets of deliciousness are sweet, tart, and umami-savory at the same time, packed in a wonderful flavored olive oil that often contains garlic, herbs like oregano, and maybe a little sugar. There are many uses for sun-dried tomatoes -- in Italian meatballs, roast chicken, or puréed in a spread -- but they're dynamite in a pasta salad, even alongside their non-dried brethren. For even more salad value-added, you can use their flavored oil to make a vinaigrette.
Like so many wonderful foods (we're looking at you, smoked sausage), tomatoes were originally dried as a method of preservation to last the winter months. Italians sprinkled part of their tomato harvest in salt and laid them out on their rooftop's ceramic tiles. The result, known as pomodori secchi in its homeland, took off in the United States after initially being considered a gourmet item. Now, let's talk sun-dried tomatoes and pasta.
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How To Add Sun-Dried Tomatoes To Pasta Salads
Italians also enjoy cold pasta salads, which they call pasta fredda. Typically made with smaller pasta like fusilli as well as other ingredients like fresh vegetables, cheese, and cured meats, there's not much difference in the kinds of salads eaten Stateside -- except the growing popularity of using sun-dried tomatoes. You can use whatever you like in your pasta salad, be it minced red onions, shredded chicken, capers, olives, garlic ... just be sure that your sun-dried tomatoes are either diced or thinly sliced. The reason for this is simple: Drying makes them a little chewy. In small sizes, this makes for a wonderful texture; whole, you're talking about something that texturally approaches jerky. What they'll add to the salad, though, is the sweetness of summer, a defining tartness, and an elegant umami.
Making a vinaigrette with the flavored sun-dried tomato olive oil is about as simple as you'd think: Swap out the oil you'd typically use for the stuff your tomatoes marinated in, and proceed to make your emulsion with whatever acid the recipe calls for -- lemon juice, red wine vinegar, what have you. Be sure to taste the sun-dried tomato oil before deciding what other ingredients the dressing might need because it will already bring different flavors to the table.
Bespoke Sun-Dried Tomatoes
If you're so inspired, making sun-dried tomatoes at home is simple. All you need are tomatoes, seasonings, heat, and time. Use oval, pear-shaped, or plum tomato varieties like Roma (forgetting about San Marzano, which can be the real deal but are always canned). Grape or cherry tomatoes will also do, but keep in mind that they have less water and will dry more quickly. The good news is that you don't actually need the sun to make your own sun-dried tomatoes. It is an option if you have some cheesecloth and around a week of sunshine. Otherwise, all you need is a warm oven (160 degrees Fahrenheit) and about eight hours.
As your tomatoes dry, you can expect them to lose about 90% of their weight. This means that 10 pounds of fresh tomatoes will only yield one pound of dried! They can then be stored either frozen in a sealed plastic bag or, better, immersed in a jar of olive oil flavored with herbs and cloves of fresh garlic. The tomatoes will absorb this flavorful oil; the other kind will need to be soaked in warm water before eating because, as mentioned, the drying process can make them a little leathery. Either way, into the pasta salad they go, to everyone's delight.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.