My mother recently came home from a trip around Italy, and like any other vacation-returnee, she brought back a typical assortment of giftable memorabilia. There were some tea towels, aprons and t-shirts but the real treasures were epicurean in nature. Among these priceless jewels were some sundried tomatoes. Dried with some salt to within an inch of their lives, these once voluptuous scarlet pomodoro were ripe and juicy have taken on a whole new persona as intensely dark and rich, twisted, tightly clenched nuggets of deep burgundy fruit that are smoky and earthy but still thrust through with a sharp tang.
As per directions, I soaked a handful in warm water for a few hours. The smell was intoxicating. Like a concentrated tomato consommé brewing, the tomatoes steeped in the water and created a thick burnt sienna tea from which wafted wondrous whiffs of wholesome tomato essence. I sliced some garlic, tossed it with some liberal lashings of olive oil, some fresh tomato and the now softened and sliced dried tomatoes and then let it simmer while I cooked my penne rigate to a couple minutes short of the package directions. Then leaving some of the pasta water in the pan, I ladled on some of the sauce and allowed the pasta to finish cooking and really soak up all of those delicious flavours. I turned off the heat and then stirred in a generous handful of freshly grated grana padano. I adore this cheese. The creaminess helps to balance out the sharp acidity of the dried tomato but it still has that depth of flavour akin to a good parmigiano reggiano. The mix of the fresh and the dried tomatoes provided a playful dynamic dining experience as your senses kept being pulled in different directions: sweet, sour, salty, fresh, smoky, soft, chewy. It was a delight to eat and the pure simplicity of the dish really kept things light. The taste of the sundried tomatoes resonated throughout every morsel but never seemed overwhelming to your taste buds as much of that flavour is aromatic. There really is something magnificently magical and curiously comforting about a big bowl of homecooked pasta :)