Remember when you were young and impressionable? When you would shriek in horror as your uncle presented you with ‘your nose’ between his fingers – aka his pokey-through thumb? Or, you would glibly give over all of your pocket money to your smirking brother to collectively buy something ‘really great’ for Mum’s birthday (because “two allowances are better than one. Mum deserves the best”)? Mum of course got what she always got, a sweaty box of Russell Stover candy and a hastily drawn card, while brother suddenly was in possession of a new skateboard.* Hmm. Or how about when, after an indulgent day at say, Florida’s Sunken Gardens, you would badger your exasperated parents for a $2 can of Florida Sunshine?
How could we have fallen for all that? I mean, really. Of course today’s children are far too sophisticated to be duped. Or are they?
Actually they are just as credulous. In fact, a very grown-up, very cool friend of Miss R just in the past year – and I witnessed this with my own eyes and did try to remonstrate – spent £4 on ‘Irish Accent’ spray. And yes, she really believed it would work. She thought that by spraying this minty air into her mouth out would pop an Irish lilt instead of her rather fetching Aussie-Scots twang. She was crestfallen when nothing happened. It was kind of sweet really, this sophisticated, on-the-pulse girl actually acting her age, or even a bit younger. And her breath did smell nice.
Today I am not testing your gullibility. I won’t be offering you the chance-of-a-lifetime investment in my goldmine in Beirut, or hawking a miracle pill to selectively target ‘those stubborn areas.’ I can however offer you Sunshine In A Can. Or rather, a jar.
Sundried tomato tapenade is just the thing to make in abundance now for a taste of sunshine later. You can use a jar or bag of sundried tomatoes (as I did), but using fresh tomatoes can be a good bet. Lots of you in living in warmer climes than I will be facing a glut of tomatoes now or very soon. Poor you. My heart bleeds. It must be terrible to have fragrant boughs of delicious tomatoes littering the garden, getting in the way. I’ll just go and put another sweater on and contemplate that some more (jealousy is a terrible thing, is it not). If you are lucky enough (grr) to have a triffid-like collection of tomatoes check out this article on how to dry your own with an oven, dehydrator or even your car’s engine (!). And Dad, I am talking to you…
Glut or no glut fresh tomatoes can be eaten in countless ways, and ‘put up’ (the Southern phrase for canning) for later. But here’s another way of preserving and enjoying these sweet-salty orbs whenever you like. Your own personal sunshine in a jar. Without the knowing smirk from your elders either.
Like its antecedent the ‘undried’ tomato, sundried tomatoes are incredibly versatile and nutritious. Although you surely won’t eat one cup of these, this measure supplies about 21 mg of Vitamin C, 5 mg of B6 and 1,851 mg of heart-helping potassium. Lots of other vitamins, minerals, and also fibre and protein too. The big downside – and this can’t be ignored (and why you would never eat a cup of them) – is the sodium content. One cup gives you half the amount you should have for the day. And the oil-packed version leaves you with the gift of 234 calories and 15 grams of fat, versus 140 calories and 1.5 grams of fat for the un-oiled version. Always try get the plain ones and control the oil yourself. That’s what we are doing with this recipe. Oil is good with tomatoes, it helps us absorb some of the major nutrients (see below) but a little will do.
On the hugely plus side is the presence of free-radical zapping lycopene. Tomatoes are the most concentrated source of this remarkable plant compound, with cooked ones – including dried – having even more more than raw. Lycopene is related to beta-carotene and is a member of the phytochemical group, carotenoids. The carotenoids are potent free-radical scavengers, meaning they prevent damage caused to cells by oxidation, whether from normal metabolic processes like breathing, or exposure to smoke, stress and chemicals. Read this article from The Atlantic for a good explanation of antioxidants and why they are so vital to us. And click onto the World’s Healthiest Foods for a good explanation of lycopene. Basically lycopene is especially powerful when it comes to protecting healthy cells from being damaged. There is limited evidence to show that lycopene from tomato products may be useful in controlling PSA levels in men with prostate cancer. Other cancers may benefit directly from lycopene, which is also found in pink/red grapefruit, watermelon and guava. See this piece on the American Cancer Society website for a good overview of the literature. Good reading.
And now to the recipe. I have it here quick and simple on some toasted bread, with a little extra oil and some olives, but it can be used like the bought sundried tomato paste as a flavour boost for soups, casseroles, pasta dishes (this would be delish as part of a tortellini filling), in bread dough, mixed into salad dressing, as a spread on fish and chicken for roasting. It is also fantastic whizzed up with some cooked beans or soft cheese and some extra herbs to make a quick dip for veggies or pitta chips. Next post I will pop some into a special summer tart featuring an unbelievably easy and very different crust. Till then, happy harvesting.* PS Poetic licence was taken with one of the memories. Sorry Julie!
Were you a gullible/impressionable child? Did you play tricks on your siblings? What are you doing with your tomato crop?