How to rehydrate dried tomatoes and reinforce their flavor

Ask the Chef

Sunday Gourmet

October 26, 2003|By Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

What's the correct way to rehydrate sun-dried tomatoes? Previously, I just soaked them in water and used them in my recipe, but they tasted bitter -- not at all like the sweet, juicy, plump tomatoes I've tasted in restaurant dishes. Thanks for your help.

Unless you buy your sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, they will need to be rehydrated with liquid. A rule of thumb is to cover sun-dried tomatoes with warm water and soak for two hours at room temperature. You can get a feel for how long they should soak by feeling how flexible they are -- the stiffer they are, the longer they should soak. If they feel like you could use them to build your vacation house, start boiling some water. Boiling water will speed up the process with rock-hard tomatoes, but it is a little harder to tell how long the process will take.

Whether your tomatoes taste bitter and are nice and plump is determined more by the brand you buy than what you do to them. Check out your sources and shop around. Another trick to add more flavor is to soak them in wine or broth instead of water.

If you are using them in a salad or a nonheated dish, try soaking them in warm water with a little vinegar for about an hour. Then drain and mix with olive oil, garlic and fresh basil, and marinate overnight. You will love them.

A couple of years ago, I found an interesting recipe for cannoli cheesecake. I tried it and everyone went crazy over it. Unfortunately, during a move, the recipe was lost. I was wondering if you might have a similar recipe.

I confess I have never had or made cannoli cheesecake, so when I get a question like this I'm off to see my pastry chef. He started playing around with a recipe, and the whole kitchen got to be guinea pigs. (Believe me, no one was complaining!)

The interesting thing about something called cannoli cheesecake is that it is an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "peace cruise missiles." As any Italian knows, cannoli are pastry tubes filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture. Cheesecake is frequently made with -- you guessed it -- a sweetened ricotta cheese mixture.

Give the recipe a try, and, if you like it, please put it in a safe place the next time you move.

Cannoli Cheesecake

FOR THE CAKE:

1 container whole milk ricotta cheese, 6 cups total

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

7 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh orange zest

2 tablespoons candied fruit, diced

1/3 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

FOR THE TOPPING:

3 tablespoons apricot preserves, melted

3 small navel oranges, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts, skins removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease and flour an 8-inch spring-form pan. Tap out excess flour. Wrap the outside of the pan with heavy duty foil, molding it tightly around the pan to prevent water from seeping in.

Process the ricotta cheese with the cinnamon in a food processor, scraping down the sides once or twice until completely smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and zest until completely smooth. Stir in the candied fruit. Combine with the ricotta mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top.

Place the spring-form pan in a large roasting pan in the oven. Pour hot tap water to a depth of 1 inch into the roasting pan. Bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until top is golden and the cake pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly. Keep the cheesecake in the oven for an additional 45 minutes to an hour. Remove, cool completely and refrigerate.

Before serving, brush the top of the cake with the melted apricot preserves. Arrange the orange slices over the glaze and sprinkle with the pistachios.

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