Even before the coming of the modern storage systems, in Southern Italy, a land rich in hot and sunny days, there was a method which allowed prolonging the life of tomatoes. This method is used in present days, too. It was simply a matter of taking advantage of two elements which are abundantly present in nature, the sun and salt, and allow time for them to dehydrate the red vegetable rich in water, so leaving all its flavour and nutritional powers intact.
Dried tomatoes are therefore a century-old presence on the tables of Italians and their use has been and IT is still a valuable resource in the cold months, when fresh tomatoes do not grow naturally.
In time, many preparations realized with this product were born. For them, almost always sun dried tomatoes are combined with olive oil, such aromatic herbs as bay, basil, and oregano, as well as such strong and intense flavours as garlic and hot pepper.
The large production and the supply chain of organic tomatoes includes many and delicious varieties present in the different Italian regions, among which the ‘San Marzano’ variety stands out as the best one for dry processing. It takes advantage of sun, and therefore this century-old method of preserving tomatoes, so expanding the important advantages linked to the consumption of an organic food, free of chemicals, and enhancing the most of its preventive and partly curative properties.
Tomato is characterized by low contents in calories and at the same time it is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and lycopene (it has been studied in recent years for its effectiveness against many modern diseases).
Sun-dried organic tomatoes preserve these precious substances, because the only element which is removed by this drying process is water, reduced to a minimum with an interesting positive implication, typical of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, which consists in the increased level of lycopene thanks to the simultaneous presence of extra virgin olive oil.
Today, the production of organic sun-dried tomatoes is carried out by means of modern dryers, in order to shorten the manufacturing process and reduce the risk of deterioration of the vegetable due to natural events, too. However, there are still small artisan companies which make good use of the natural power of the sun.
Beside the preparation of classic dried tomatoes, semi-dried tomato is now widespread and is becoming increasingly popular. For this version, the tomatoes sectioned into halves or in segments are left to dry in special ovens for several hours, at a not too high temperature. So, their flesh remains firmer, fleshier, and with a bright red colour, which reminds to a far higher extent the characteristics of the fresh tomato, with more intense flavours and aromas.
With semi-dried tomatoes in oil, the horizons in cooking and the possible combinations have greatly expanded. Their tender and consistent flesh allows creating in an easy and quick way a tasty sauce. Semi-dried tomatoes must be simply whisked with their oil for seasoning the classic pasta, but also rice and cereal in grains.
To the base consisting of this red cream, it is then possible to add fresh seasonal herbs with their scent. Basil, mint, and marjoram, almonds, pine-seeds or lightly toasted hazelnuts, olives or capers, tuna in oil or natural are particularly recommend, so broadening in a simply and quickly way the range of possible combinations. In particular, a tasty combination is realized with Italian semolina pasta, which boasts an unlimited number of formats.
But even with classic dried tomatoes it is possible to create many recipes: when they are in their dry natural state, it is enough to let them revive in warm water and they partially recover their initial consistency. So, it is possible to add them to onion and herbs browned in oil and use them as a base preserve for sauces or in order to accompany meat and fish.
They are also suitable for flavouring vegetable broths and give a hint of flavour to cooked pulses, by adding them in the last 15 minutes of cooking. This way, it is also possible to avoid adding salt, thanks to the overall aromatic enrichment they allow. This is an exclusive secret for Italian Food Excellence which must be taken into careful account.
Sun-dried tomatoes in their version in oil have an even more pronounced flavour and are usually excellent for enriching sauces and fillings, for instance chopped with a little of their oil for transforming a soft cheese in a delicious cream for garlic bread, sandwiches, finger foods.
Another intriguing way of using them consists in mixing whisked sun-dried tomatoes along with simple ‘Ricotta’, smearing this red cream on a mixture for flat breads and then rolling the whole preparation in order to create a sort of pinwheel, like the one which is seen in the picture below, very pleasant and practical to carry for both picnics and short excursions.