I was wandering the produce section of the grocery store last Friday, in search of sun-dried tomatoes – they have rearranged since the last time I bought them. I finally found them, hiding behind the grapefruit. Alongside the packages of dried tomatoes were jars of sun-dried tomato pesto and other tomato based spreads. I was tempted, since I had never bought the pesto before, but I decided to make my own after looking at the ingredients on a jar – water, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and various thickeners. I figured I could make my own and it would be better, and cheaper.
I whirled the dried tomatoes in the food processor, along with two cloves of garlic. I ended up with a processor full of tiny, sticky bits of tomatoes. I added olive oil and whirled it again. Now I had a processor full of tiny, oily bits of tomatoes. The pesto definitely needed more moisture. I didn’t want to make it too oily by adding more olive oil, so I thought of adding boiling water to rehydrate the tomatoes. Probably if I had been smart, I would have done that as my very first step. My way worked, after many tries of adding a tablespoon of water and processing and then adding another tablespoon. I think I was too hesitant at first. I used almost a half cup of water, but I ended up with a lovely, smooth paste. I tasted it and it was flat and one-dimensional.
After adding a pinch of sugar to offset the acidity of the tomatoes, as well as a little salt and pepper, it still needed something. Traditional basil pesto has pine nuts, so I figured I should add a few nuts. I didn’t have any pine nuts and pecans seemed a perfect partner for sun-dried tomatoes, so I threw in a few and whirled it again. Pretty much perfection – intense, almost meaty, tomato flavor, with richness from the pecans. The garlic was a little sharp, so I will probably use only one clove next time. Especially if I am going to use it raw, as a spread for bread or tossed with hot pasta.
I ended up with more than a cup of tomato pesto and a little goes a long way – I am looking forward to figuring out how to use my stash. I already used some as a layer inside stuffed chicken (post coming Friday) and am planning on spreading a thin layer on pizza instead of our regular tomato sauce. And then I might make crostini with a layer of the tomato pesto and a sprinkling of goat cheese or Parmesan cheese. I tried a version of that right after I made the pesto, and it was good, but it would have been better after a minute under the broiler to toast the bread and melt the cheese.
What would you make with sun-dried tomato pesto?
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1 cup
Use in chicken dishes, as a different kind of pizza sauce, stirred into hot pasta or spread on crostini for an appetizer.
Adjust the garlic and olive oil amounts to suit your tastes. Two cloves makes it very garlicky, one will be milder. More olive oil will produce a richer paste. Feel free to use any nuts you prefer – I like the rich sweetness of pecans with the tomatoes.
3 ounces dry packed sun-dried tomatoes
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons pecan halves
1-2 teaspoons sugar, optional
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
¼-½ cup boiling water, approximately
Whirl tomatoes, garlic and pecans in a food processor until finely chopped. Add salt, pepper and sugar, if using, to taste, along with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and process again. If tomatoes are really dry, and you just have oily bits instead of a paste, add about ¼ cup of boiling water and process again. Continue adding water and processing until you have a mostly smooth paste. Store in the fridge in a tightly covered container for up to a week. Freeze for longer storage.