Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sundried Tomato Pesto from the solar oven

We've been pulling a lot of tomatoes out of our garden lately. Is there anything more earthy and wonderful than to bite into a fresh juicy tomato right out of the garden? I could stay there all day and let the juice run down my elbows. Aside from saying ,"Mmmm" for hours on end...I don't see anything horrible about it. Wait...a tomato seed mustache isn't necessarily the prettiest fashion statement. ( Note to self...wipe face before returning to society.) I miss The Organic Tomato Farm simply for the fact that at least there, I was in a greenhouse out of the sun. There...it's official. I miss the farm. It hasn't stopped me from growing these babies organic, but it has made me appreciate a controlled environment.

It's summer in Arizona. I can't even go into how hot it is...because I start cursing. Well...maybe just grumbling. My tomatoes are having a hard time with the heat...but my solar oven is loving these long smoldering days. There is a bright happy joy-joy good side of living in the dessert heat. I get a lot done in the hours I have the large capacity solar baker out. Those of you just joining me don't know I built a solar baker out of a dresser drawer. I did. I'm a solar dork. With it we've been sun-drying our tomatoes. Turning them into Sun dried tomato pesto has been a wonderful thing. When we where living in the condominium I couldn't do so much with this outdoor baking, though I still used my regular Solar Oven almost every day on the patio. Most of my "sun-dry" was done by dehydrator. Not now. Today we're making tomato pesto. Thursday I will be on NBC channel 12 here in Phoenix making Pizza Chicken Bacon Wraps for Valley Dish. I'm really excited to be there. It will be a competition show for the best brown bag lunch. Though honestly, I think the chef I'm competing with is one of the most amazing chef's I've seen. It will be an honor just to be in the same studio with her. Which brings me to the pesto.

I use:
1 cup packed fresh basil, 1/2 cup packed fresh oregano, and 1/4 cup packed fresh rosemary(off the stem) and 4 sprigs of thyme and 1 cup extra virgin olive oil. I pack them in a jar like this...

On top of 3 Kalamata olives, zest of half an orange and half a lemon, 3 shallots and 2 garlic cloves and 1T fresh cracked pepper. I'm honestly weird, but I think it tastes better if I let the oil and herbs sit together a few days in the fridge before I make it into pesto. You don't have to do this step. It's okay just to skip ahead into making the pesto.

The tomatoes have been cut in half and placed on a wire rack inside the large capacity solar oven. They dry at the same time we cook beans in the pot. When they are mostly dry and still pliable like a prune, I take them out. It takes about a pound of tomatoes to make two ounces of sun dried tomatoes. We used 8 oz of sun dried tomatoes to make the pesto. Yes...you can just buy the sun dried tomatoes at the store. I know I've said this a hundred times before, but please remember my simple rule: I'm not checking your cupboard. Do what you want.
It's okay at this point to just pack them in oil and keep them in the fridge for longer storage.
To make them into pesto, simply cover tomatoes in juice, wine or water for about 20 minutes. They rehydrate quickly. Add the tomatoes to the pesto ingredients in a large food processor and grind with the chopper blade 3-4 minutes until a smooth paste is achieved. You may add a cup of Parmesan cheese if desired.
For those who don't have access to a solar oven I thought I'd share what you do if you start with a dehydrator. I posted it once before, but it's nice to have all the information in one post, right? As for the tomatoes, honestly you can't call them sun dried if you don't use the sun. Like I say,I used "electric dried" most of the time I was in the condo, simply because I didn't want the onslaught of ants that usually accompanies the outdoor production of dried tomatoes. I think they still taste just as wonderful. I cut the tomatoes in quarters and dehydrate 8-10 hours.
Place the tomatoes, cut side up, directly onto the dehydrator trays. Set dehydrator temperature to about 140 F. After 4 or 5 hours, turn the tomatoes over and press flat with your hand or a spatula. After a few hours, turn the tomatoes again and flatten gently. Continue drying until done.

8 lbs of tomatoes will yield about a pint. You read that right. I know that it sounds like a lot of tomatoes and it is...that is the point. It's a huge flavor in a small jar.

Behold...the jar of sun...
To pack in oil:
Cover them in high quality extra virgin olive oil. Make sure they are completely immersed in the oil. The oil will solidify at refrigerator temperatures (it quickly liquefies at room temperature however). As tomatoes are removed from the jar, add more olive oil as necessary to keep the remaining tomatoes covered. They can be frozen for up to 12 months without a problem as well!
I use a garlic infused oil and then add a sprig of clean rosemary...
which looks like Christmas. Don't you agree?
It is also a wonderful flavor to add 1T fresh cracked pepper,2T fresh basil, 3T fresh oregano, and 2 cloves of garlic to the packing oil. Sun dried tomatoes can be stored out of oil too. I just like having infused oil on hand.It's amazing.
Cap tightly. Keeps well over 3 months in the fridge. Like bottles of sunshine.
I use sun dried tomatoes in Sundried tomato blush sauce and pasta.
Pizza Chicken Bacon Wraps I usually use the sun dried tomato pesto.

There you go. Make some pesto.


mlebagley said...

Wow, I can see why this stuff costs so much in the store! Lots of work doing the sundried tomato thing! Thanks for sharing all of the hows with us!

Stacy said...

These look delicious! What do you use the infused oil for? And do you freeze them in oil or just the tomatoes? Also, do you dry them until they are completely dry?

Chef Tess said...

Stacy, I use the infused oil to add flavor to any dish instead of plain olive oil to saute or in bread...wherever you use oil. The garlic infused oil with the tomatoes is amazing. I dry them until they are about the consistency of a dried apricot or a raisin. They're a little pliable. Great questions!