For every 10 horrible things Summer imposes upon you, there is probably one good thing. To many people that one good thing would be mangoes, but I’m not the one who’s hopelessly addicted to the mushy, pulpy fruit. I had seen my thamma make good use of the unbearable blasts of sunrays into preparing achaars (pickles) — aamer achaar (mango pickle), jolpai-er achaar, lonka-r achaar (chilli pickle), roshuner achaar (garlic pickle) — and what have you! But my Mother doesn’t have the patience or the inclination to lay out trays of achaar in the sun and even though my Rika time and again prepares these sun-soaked beauties, the culture of home-made pickles has almost died a gradual death in our house.
This was sometime in March and I had gone to a friend’s place in the afternoon. There I saw how his 92-year-old Dida has spread out kooler achaar in the sun to dry out. She told me to come back after a week for that, but as I was leaving for Australia for 3 weeks that possibility was sealed. So I grabbed a handful from the tray itself and nibbled at them the entire duration I was there. Three weeks later once I was back I was duly gifted with a box full of the now-ready kooler achaar. Oh, what would you do without Didas and Thammas!
Now I’m not much of a pickle-maker, in the sense I’ve never made pickles before. But the catastrophic rays of the sun gave me another idea. I got 3 kilos of tomatoes, chopped them into quarters, smeared them with a bit of sea salt and laid them in the terrace for drying out — all in the bid for my homemade sun-dried tomatoes! It took me 4 days to get them dried adequately (by which time the volume of the tomatoes had reduced dismally). I then transferred the dried bits of the tomatoes in a jar containing extra virgin olive oil and whole garlic cloves and let it mature in the refrigerator for another 5-6 days. And then out came my blender, spices, herbs, nuts and these and these ruby red beauties were crushed and mashed to form the most delectable pesto ever!
For Sun Dried Tomatoes:
Tomatoes, quartered: 3 kilos
Sea salt: to sprinkle
Olive oil: 1/4 cup
Garlic cloves: 5-6
1. Smear the quartered tomatoes to sea salt and spread them on a big tray. Try not to overlap. Keep them under direct sunrays for 3-4 days (this will depend upon the intensity of the rays though. In Calcutta during the month of May it took me 4 days to get everything dried). Make sure to refrigerate after sundown.
2. Once the tomatoes are dried, in an airtight jar pour some olive oil and whole garlic cloves and soak the sun-dried tomatoes. Keep in the refrigerator until further use.
For Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto:
Sun-dried tomatoes: 300 gm (roughly the weight 3 kilos will reduce to)
Basil leaves: 1/2 cup, loosely packed
Parmesan cheese, grated: 1/2 cup
Pine nuts: 3 tbsp
Olive oil: 1/4 cup (the same in which the tomatoes were soaked + more if needed)
Lime juice: of 1 lime
Black pepper powder: 1/2 tsp
Garlic cloves: 5-6 (the same with which the tomatoes were packed)
1. In a blender, put all the ingredients and blend till a coarse paste is formed. You can keep on adding olive oil if you want to make you pesto smooth, but I like the rustic look of it and some texture when I’m eating it.
a) As a sauce with pasta: The classic Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes:
b) As a spread for sandwiches
c) As topping for bruschettas and crackers and dip for crudites
d) As an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish or as a filling to roast chicken
e) As an added flavour to Hummus making it Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
I am sending this post to Kolkata Food Bloggers’ Summer special event
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