Sunday, January 25, 2009

Olive and Sun Dried Tomato Spread

I used to make this recipe quite frequently for lunches when I lived in the UK. For whatever reason, it fell off my radar for a few years. I thought of it again for a couple of child-related reasons: Elspeth loves puttanesca sauce and is also getting into the idea of spreads and dips. This spread was a hit for the whole family on the Tall Grass baguette from the farmers' market. When I get my act together, I'll be making Delicious, Crusty Bread to accompany it. (By the by, if you live in our area, Tall Grass baguettes are the closest to the good ones I had in France by a wide margin).

The recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks by one of my favorite cookbook authors, Patricia Wells' Trattoria. That and her Bistro Cooking are mainstays. She calls it Red Pesto or Pesto Rosso and I'm sure that is the name she found for it in Italy, but it doesn't seem anything like pesto to me. Because the olives are an important ingredient, I feel it's more like a tapenade with sun-dried tomatoes. I just went for a descriptive name instead of causing debate about what constitutes a pesto or a tapenade.

Wells uses salt-cured olives, but we don't often have these around, so I used brine-cured kalamatas instead. I also use less olive oil than she does--if you want a sauce as opposed to a spread, feel free to add the full 6 tablespoons she calls for. Finally, I added a tiny bit of clementine zest. Wells taught me that baked pasta is delicious when you butter the baking dish and then put orange zest in it. I know this is a bit much for some diners, but I adore it. I extrapolated that idea to this spread with great success--it's more subtle than in the baked pasta.

Here again I use my trusty mini food processor as the recipe doesn't really make enough for a full sized food processor.

We were lucky to find organic sun-dried tomatoes at the farmers' market and I used those. If you use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, you'll either want to rinse them or reduce the amount of olive oil in the recipe. Wells uses her homemade sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed) but mentions nothing in her recipe about reconstituting the tomatoes. I chose to soak my tomatoes in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water and then use the water in the spread--I think the texture is nicer that way. I've also substituted roasted cherry tomatoes for the sun dried ones with great success.

10 sun-dried tomatoes or 1/4 c. roasted cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, put through a garlic press or finely minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional) or to taste
3 TBSP olive oil (or up to 6 TBSP)
20 pitted kalamata olives or salt-cured black olives such as Gaeta or Nyons
2 tsp minced fresh thyme or to taste
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary (she says 1 TBSP but I find rosemary overpowering and like to tone it down)
1/2 tsp clementine or orange zest (lemon might also work)
Pepper to taste (you shouldn't need salt)

  1. If desired, soften the sun-dried tomatoes in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water. If using oil-packed tomatoes, rinse if you wish
  2. Place all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a mini-food processor and process until it forms a coarse paste
  3. Add the olive oil and process further to your preferred texture. Wells states that the sauce should be on the chunky side
  4. You can store the spread in the fridge for up to a month if you cover the top of it with a thin film of olive oil
  5. Serve on bread, crisp flatbread (someday I'll post Wells' Sardinian Parchment Bread recipe--the spread would be great on that), or even pasta

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