Monday, August 30, 2010

Sun Drying Tomatoes

It's not often that I write about a technique for food preservation rather than giving a recipe. However, it's tomato season here in Sacramento, and I'm suddenly surrounded by tomatoes. It was just last week that I was searching my backyard tomato plants for a tomato or two for a salad. Today, there's plenty for salads, cooking a meal, and more. There's just not enough for making tomato sauce. So, sun dried tomatoes it is.
It's been years since I've lived anywhere that gave me loads of tomatoes, but I still remember what to do with them when I've got them. If you don't grow them yourself, this is also the right time of year for a self pick expedition, or to pick up some extra at the market. However you come by your tomatoes, sun drying them ensures you enjoy tomatoes when the season is over.


salt Directions:

Use tomatoes that are "meaty" and all of the same approximate size. In the photos here, I've used grape tomatoes. Roma tomatoes and beefsteak types are also excellent candidates. If you're using small grape style tomatoes, simply cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. You can use your fingers to remove any ribs. If you're using a larger tomato, cut it in half, squeeze out the liquid and seeds, then cut out the hard stem end. Slice the tomato into equal strips, cutting each half into either thirds or quarters depending on how large your tomato. You'll want to end up with tomato pieces that are about 1/2 inch wide. Lay the tomatoes on a mesh screen with the cut side up. Sprinkle them with a little salt. There are drying screens made for this purpose, or you can use a steamer like I have. You can also simply line a cooking pan with foil and put the tomatoes on that. Cover the tomatoes with cheesecloth to keep out insects, but still let air circulate, and set outside in a sunny spot. If the tomatoes don't dry in one day, bring them inside at night so they don't get dewy, and set them in the sun for another day. You'll want the finished tomatoes to have a leathery feel to them - dry, yet pliable.

Option 2. Use the cookie sheet method with foil. Place the tomatoes in the oven set at the lowest temperature, usually 150F. Cook the tomatoes for between 5 and 10 hours, with the time depending on how wet the tomatoes are to begin with. If you use the oven method, check the tomatoes from time to time, stirring them, so that all sides get dried.

Once your tomatoes are dry, place them in plastic bags. I like to put them in the freezer, because they'll keep for up to a year. You can also keep them in the refrigerator if you're going to use them in the next few weeks.

Stealthy Cooking Tip: Some people who don't like raw tomatoes will enjoy them dried. Use sun dried tomatoes in salads, dressing, as a pizza topping, in pasta, or just about anywhere you might use tomatoes. They have a deeper flavor than fresh ones, and really jazz up a dish.

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