* Prices may differ from that shown
Before using them you have to soak the tomatoes in warm water for half an hour then rinse them thoroughly with warm water and set aside to drain. You can see that the tomatoes have been fully reconstituted after this step and after draining and rinsing they start to smell fresher than they did while they were still dried because the soaking process seems like it releases the sharp but delicious fragrance of the sun dried tomatoes.
I add sun dried tomatoes to salads, stews, rice dishes and pasta sauces but my favourite thing to cook with them are savoury muffins and I make these quite a lot because me and my boyfriend both love them. I always reconstitute them but the packet says that some recipes you can use them as they are without having to soak them, it doesn't elaborate on that and I am not confident enough to try it because I would worry that when my food was cooked the tomatoes would be chewy and dried up (they are very similar to dried apricots in texture when they are in the packet and only become edible after soaking).
These sun dried tomatoes have an intense flavour that I think is delicious but remember that not everyone likes the taste or feel of sun dried tomatoes so this isn't an ingredient you should put in every single dish you cook if you have company. Me and my boyfriend love them but my aunt has a dislike for them that meant she didn't have anything to eat one evening when she came for dinner because I had cooked two courses (none of us wanted dessert) and both were quite heavily flavoured with sun dried tomatoes, she didn't go hungry because she made herself an omelette but it made me feel guilty that I hadn't remembered she didn't like the flavour of these tomatoes. You can't just pick them out either because when you cook with sun dried tomatoes the flavour of them infuses the whole dish so picking out the pieces is a waste of time!!
*A store cupboard essential*
I'm a self confessed foodie and these deliciously pungent and richly flavoured sun dried tomatoes feature high up my list of store cupboard essentials. They are both delicious and versatile and while my conscience occasionally feels a little troubled about the carbon debt they no doubt accrued on their travels from Puglia, I suspect that I'll continue buying them 'til the cows come home.
Luckily for food fans, cuisine in the UK has seen something of a renaissance in recent years and it's possible to easily find a wide range of top quality cooking ingredients from around the world with which to add the finishing touches to special recipes. As well as the advent of the celebrity chef, canny supermarket buyers have been instrumental in helping to bring some of these ingredients to the shopping baskets of the masses and I thank them for that.
*Availability, pricing and what little nutritional info you need to know*
The Merchant Gourmet brand is widely available in all the main supermarkets (the large ones and the city centre stores, anyway) and is also represented in many good quality delicatessens. The packet I always opt for is 100 g in weight, which will be considerably higher when and if you opt to re-hydrate the tomatoes. The typical price is £1.25-1.50 and I'm yet to pay more for them.
They are also available preserved in oil and some of the supermarket websites which detail prices per kilogram might suggest that they're more economical to purchase this way. Don't believe this for a moment! The 270 g jar is a mere 135 g once drained and costs almost double what the dried equivalent will set you back.
These are dried tomatoes and as such I don't think I need to delve into much nutritional detail. Like all tomatoes, these are rich in vitamins and nutrients and I don't think that the fact they're sun dried detracts from this too much. One thing I should point out is that the sodium content is fairly high, at 5 g/100 g of tomatoes. This isn't a big issue - salt has long been used to help cure food and there will be a lot less on the tomatoes by the time they've been re-hydrated and drained.
*A memorable taste of the Mediterranean*
These sun dried Italian tomatoes are fantastic and offer particularly bold flavours and a lingering after taste which is a thoroughly representative taste of the Mediterranean and all that's good about its cooking. Biting into one of these 'meaty' tomatoes I can quite easily picture myself sitting in a small Italian village surrounded by good food and good wine. They evoke all the good memories I have of the region and are bound to be enjoyed by anyone who likes putting good quality ingredients in what they cook.
*Two ways with sun dried tomatoes*
Warm salami and king prawn salad with sun dried tomatoes and a clementine dressing:
Take a large bag of pre-prepared bistro salad and add some spring onions greens and a generous quantity fresh herbs (basil and flat leaf parsley are good, mint can be nice for a 'fruitier' kick). Make up a dressing with olive oil, a finely diced clementine, a shot of red wine vinegar and plenty of black pepper. Pan fry some king prawns, some good chunks of diced Napoli salami and 50 g of re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes with a little extra virgin olive oil for a couple of minutes. Toss the salad instantly and serve on warm ciabatta (home baked if you have the time).
Ok, so it's not too expensive, but it is delicious and seems somewhat fancy compared to poor old Heinz.
Leave 4 good quality vine tomatoes in the sun to become very ripe (verging on over-ripe). Blitz in a food processor with 100 g of re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes, a generous slug of Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and a heaped teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika. This will keep well in the fridge for about a week and will keep better still if you stir in a tablespoon of olive oil. Delicious hot or cold.