Sauce secrets: Cooking with sun dried tomatoes

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Being a fairly new wife occasionally comes with the compulsion to try and pull off a fancy looking dinner with a fancy sounding name.  This episodic need to prove myself competent, sends me to boundary-pushing pins, only for me to find one thing.

Most of them only give the illusion of difficulty.

For instance, check this one out:  Chicken and pasta with a creamy sauce.  People (myself included) have an unexplained wariness of working with cream.  Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s sold in such small quantities, or that it goes bad fairly quickly, but think of it as a very rich milk. Use it within a few days of buying it, and only buy what you need. In the event of leftovers, overindulge in a super creamy milkshake. (Not a habit you want to want to keep frequently, but very tasty.)

This dish also had me cooked with sun dried tomatoes for the first time. I had always thought of them as over-priced jars of tomato leftovers, until the recipe called for the ones not packed in oil. In fact, they are also sold in air tight packages, and I was delighted to find that when opened, they have a surprising hint of bacon in both flavor and aroma. The chicken and the pasta parts are easy, so in this case the old adage is true: the secret is in the sauce.

 Chicken with Creamy Basil Tomato Sauce

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ¼  cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped (in package, not oil packed)
  • ¼  cup fresh basil, chopped or 4 tsp. Dried.
  • 1½  cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup regular cream
  • ½ tsp. Red pepper flakes.
  • ¼ 16 ounce package whole wheat spaghetti, uncooked

Heat the oil in a large pan over high heat, add the chicken, and pepper both sides.  Cover and let cook, about five minutes each side.  Keep covered and set aside.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan.  While the butter melts, chop your garlic and shallot, adding to the pan, cooking 1-2 minutes until softened.  Stir in sun dried tomatoes, then whisk in flour.  Slowly pour in the chicken broth, whisking out any lumps left by the flour.  Whisk in cream, whisking until thickened, adding in basil.

Cook pasta to the packages instructions, then put on a plate. Put the chicken on the noodles, then the sauce on the chicken.  Bon appetit.

This recipe first had me intimidated.  There are a lot of ingredients.  But it’s broken down into three easy segments.  Make the salsa, then make the filling, then assemble and bake – or those steps can be rearranged to save time if need be.  The salsa isn’t needed until after the filling is stuffed and baked, so you could make it while the flautas bake.

After making the salsa, while the flautas baked, I tried the salsa on a tortilla chip.  I should not have been so surprised by the acidity and sharpness, with so much garlic, pepper, and lime juice, and I thought, “Oh no, I can’t put this on hobo’s dinner, let alone my husband’s.” But for the sake of trying something new, I dabbed some on top of each and served them up.  Turns out, the vegetarian filling is a perfect balance to the salsa!  So lesson learned, the salsa is not for dipping chips, but rather to slather across a flauta.

This vegetarian dish is packed with garlic – nine cloves in all.  Most people would run away at the thought, others perhaps at the smell, but around here it’s a welcome guest.  They say garlic is a superfood, right?  (If that’s what they call it, much of my family and I need capes because we’re freaking heroes by now.)  The stinking rose has been used for centuries to treat colds and flu, probably because of all the antioxidents it holds, and some even claim to have natural antibiotics.  All the more reason to enjoy!

Black bean Flautas with Charred Tomatillo Salsa


  • 1 jalapeno
  • ½  lb. tomatillos, unpeeled
  • ½ small yellow onion, unpeeled
  • juice of ½ a lime
  • salt and black pepper
  • Flautas:
  • 1 can black beans with liquid
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 8 flour tortilla
  • 2½  cups shredded colby jack cheese
  • 2 seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions

For salsa: In a large skillet, cook the tomatillos, jalapenos, onion, and garlic, stirring until soft and skins are slightly blackened.  Remove from skillet and let cool 5 minutes.  Peel tomatillos, onion and garlic, then remove stem and seeds from jalapeno; combine in blender or food processor with lime juice, blending until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For flautas: In a medium sauce pan combine the black beans with liquid, broth, ½ tsp. salt, cumin and chili powder and garlic, then bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes until the beans are soft.  Drain, reserving the liquid.  Puree drained mixture with ½ tsp. Salt and lime juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add reserved liquid 1 tablespoon at a time if beans are dry.

Preheat oven to 450.  Spread 2 tablespoons bean puree on a tortilla, sprinkle with about ¼ cup cheese, 2 tablespoons tomatoes, and 1 tablespoon green onion.  Roll up tightly place seem side down in a 9×13 baking dish.  Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp and cheese is melted.  Top with salsa before serving.

Tip of the week: Dried herbs and spices are much more potent than fresh ones.  So if you find  yourself having to swap out fresh herbs for dried, use one third of the herb that recipe calls for.  Likewise, if you prefer fresh to dried, use three times as much as you would dried.

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