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Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Sun-dried tomatoes lend themselves to countless apps, entrees

Running out of ideas for easy last-minute appetizers and entrees?
What about sun-dried tomatoes as a jumping off point? Have you forgotten how delicious they are and how much flavor they bring to a dish with very little effort on your part?
Even if you didn't dry your own this summer, they've become affordable enough that it's worth a trip to the store, considering some of the fast and fanciful way they'll get you through the rest of the holiday season:

  • Sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread
  • Giant olives stuffed with garlic sliver and diced sun-dried tomato
  • Popcorn, garlic butter and sun-dried tomato bits
  • Alternate small chunks of mozzarella, a small square of sun-dried tomato, and a basil leaf on toothpicks; arrange them in a star pattern on a platter lined with more basil...the flavor and color combo is great.
  • Sun-dried tomato topped focaccia
  • Sun-dried tomato, spinach quiche
  • White beans and garlic puree with sun-dried tomatoes
  • Include sun-dried tomatoes on an antipasto platter of fresh veggies, pickled peppers, slices of mozzarella cheese, and flavored olives.
  • Add slivers of sun-dried tomatoes to a pasta or tossed green salad (don't forget to use the tomato-flavored olive oil in the dressing).
  • After chopping finely, add them to a simple white sauce (wine, cream and olive oil base) for an extra flavorful pasta topping.
  • For a fast-but-tasty appetizer, coarsely chop a handful in your foodprocessor, then combine with equal portions of shredded cheese and pesto (store-bought pesto is fine). Spread the mixture on top of Focaccia bread, or on the cut surfaces of a split baguette, and broil until bubbly. Cut into chunks and serve hot.
  • Alternate sun-dried tomatoes, wedges of onion, and 1/2-inch size chunks of chicken on bamboo skewers; brush a bit of pesto over all, and grill over hot coals until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and golden brown.
  • Sun-dried tomato, green onion, sour cream stuffed potato
  • Add to couscous saald along with parsley and red onions
  • Enhance a basic lentil soup with sun-dried tomatoes and kale
  • Sun-dried tomatoes are marvelous tucked into rolled up slices of salami or ham, skewered with apples and cheese chunks, or speared on toothpicks with shiny black olives and roasted cloves of garlic.

Beyond totally simple, perhaps the following recipes will intrigue you since they all fall within the realm of "not too difficult."
This recipe came about when I needed to extend a batch of pesto to serve a hungry crowd. I thought sun-dried tomatoes would lighten up the pesto, increase its bulk (so I could serve it as a spread with French bread) and add depth of flavor that even a marvelous pesto lacks.
I was right. We stood around the bowl scooping out great globs of it with our chunks of bread until it was completely gone. I imagine a group of holiday revelers wouldn't act any differently.
Pesto with sun-dried tomatoes
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar will do in a pinch)

Combine the basil, garlic, and parsley in a blender and process until finely chopped. Add the pine nuts, Parmesan, and salt and process just until blended. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until a smooth paste is formed. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and vinegar and continue processing just until the tomatoes are finely chopped, but flecks are still visible.
Yields about 11/2 cups.
Other uses: Stir it into a batch of risotto; slather it on an unbaked pizza crust, then top with grilled chicken, sliced onions, large shavings of romano and mozzarella cheeses, chopped fresh tomato, and salt and pepper; loosen with a bit of tomato sauce and pour over cheese ravioli or tortellini, topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese; mix it with goat cheese or feta and spread on toasted baguette slices.
This is a wonderful last-minute appetizer. Substitute any cheese for the mozzarella if you don't happen to have any on hand.
Mellow goat cheese or herb-flavored cream cheese work particularly well, as does a simple sharp cheddar.
Toasted baguettes with mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes
1 baguette
Olive oil
6 ounces thinly sliced or shredded Mozzarella
16 sun-dried tomatoes, drained
Basil leaves

Thinly slice 16 1/4-inch thick slices from the baguette and arrange them on a baking sheet. Brush the top side of each slice lightly with olive oil, then broil the slices until golden and toasty (this may be done up to 24 hours ahead).
When ready to serve, spread each bread slice with a portion of the mozzarella (or other cheese), then top with a sun-dried tomato and basil leaf. Bake in 450 degree oven just until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes.
Yields 16 pieces or 8 servings.
How about coming in from a round of Christmas caroling and sitting down to this dreamy soup that came together so quickly earlier in the day?
Sun-dried tomato soup with cheese panini
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tomato, diced
3 cups good quality chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
For the panini:
4 ciabatta rolls
1/2 pound Italian Fontina cheese slices

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and tomato, along with the broth and thyme. Simmer briefly to cook the fresh tomato.
Remove the soup from the heat and let cool slight. Add half of the mixture to a blender or food processor, and puree (be sure and place a towel over the lid to avoid hot, spurting liquid). Return the soup to the pot and whisk in the cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To make the panini: Divide the cheese between the 4 rolls. Place them in a pre-heated panini press and cook until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted.
Makes 4 servings.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
Story tags » Cooking

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