Kitchn Love Letters

The Underrated Canned Ingredient I’ve Been Adding to My Dinners All Summer Long

published Aug 16, 2021
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Holly's canned food cabinet

For me, tomatoes scream summer. My backyard is studded with an array of tomato plants that provide me with the freshly plucked homegrown treasures I’ll add to salads and sandwiches for weeks to come. I grab perfectly ripe tomatoes from the store weekly, and caprese-style everything is on a constant rotation. 

I honestly think that one of the innate beauties of tomatoes is the fact that they come in so many unique and useful forms. In the same week you can use a fresh tomato on a burger, a can of tomatoes in your sauce, and some sun-dried tomatoes in a pesto … and never get bored. 

But let me turn you on to tomatoes in possibly their most delectable form: semi-dried. 

Credit: Annie Burdick

Typically sold in large cans or jars, imported from Italy, and packed in oil with a medley of aromatic, savory flavor complements, semi-dried tomatoes are the ones you may have never heard of, but won’t want to stop eating. I’m telling you — tomatoes have never tasted so good. 

I will be honest and say there are two little setbacks for any lover of semi-dried tomatoes: cost and availability. These are considered luxury imported groceries, and as such you’re very unlikely to find them on the shelves of any standard grocery store. I grabbed a jar recently from a fine foods market near me, and I’ve gotta flag the price. In this particular store, a hefty 18.7-ounce jar clocked in at $16. (Yes, I know.) I can guarantee there are some cheaper cans and jars out there (check Italian or international groceries first!), and probably pricier ones too. And if availability is the problem, it’s also possible to snag some online.

Despite being initially daunted by the cost, I can tell you that every single bite reminds me that it is completely worth it — perhaps not as an everyday item, but without a doubt to add to the rotation. (Added to the value factor, the jar I picked out will be enough to use in several dishes easily.)

So, let me introduce you to the semi-dried tomato. Lacking the acidity or slight bitterness of a sun-dried tomato, but with a depth well beyond a typical canned tomato, these little slices of sunshine are slightly sweet, incredibly flavorful, and entirely decadent. Because they’ve only been partially dried, they retain some moisture, and the texture that goes with that is unbeatable. Not to mention, most brands can or jar them in a heavenly mix of high-end oil, vinegar, garlic, and spices. 

The key to cooking with these is letting them shine. Rather than boil them down or cook too much, use them in places where they’ll have the most flavorful impact. A few on a panini or an Italian sub is perfect. Chopped and added to a pasta salad or a warm pasta dish, as an upgrade to your next caprese salad, sprinkled on a pizza, or blended into pesto? All tantalizing options. Perhaps best yet, consider semi-dried tomatoes your new party trick: Toast a bit of bread, smear some ricotta or goat cheese on top, and drop one off these babies on top. It will make you the host of the year. 

Am I over-exaggerating? No. If you’ve tried them, you get it. There’s some tomato magic in that can.