OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES: The Easy Preserving Alternative
Editor’s Note: Francis Lam over at Gilttaste.com is doing oven dried tomatoes this week, so we thought it was a good time to recycle last year’s piece on oven drying tomatoes, because, you know, we did it first! Kidding aside, tomato season is winding up, and if you haven’t had the chance to can tomatoes, oven-drying is an easy, doable alternative to capture this wonderful tomato season for which we have the hot, drought conditions to thank.
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Although some tomato farmers are reporting late-season blight, certain crops of tomatoes are still growing strong. One such variety is juliet — a cross between a roma and cherry tomato.
After picking up 25 pounds from Randy Brockway at the Logan Square Market, I decided that the perfect way to preserve them is to dry them. Juliets are small, and not as juicy and certainly not as seedy as a roma. I’ve slow-roasted romas before with great success, but the result was a shrunken, more concentrated tomato; tasty, but a far cry from what you see labeled as “sun-dried tomatoes” in the store.
Drying is perfect for people who are either tired or afraid of canning. (After lots of canning lately, I fall into the former category.) After the tomatoes are dried, they can be portioned out in Ziploc freezer bags or sealed in pouches and stored in the freezer. (Read: You can’t can these even if you wanted to.)
At first, I had these romantic notions of drying these tomatoes in the Indian summer sun, but after reading further, I learned that: One, nobody does that anymore. Producers are allowed to label their tomatoes as “sun-dried” though they weren’t. And two, doing so could take up to two weeks (!). And you have to bring them in every night lest they become snacks for critters.
The good news is that you can (and should) dry them in the oven. After you halve them lengthwise and lay the halves out in one layer on a cookie sheet, it takes about 8-12 hours in an unattended 200° oven. (The oven temperature should not exceed 200, otherwise they will roast, not dry.) You know things are going well when the tomato begins to shrivel in on itself. Feel free to keep them in the oven overnight. If they’re not as dried as you’d like in the morning, then take them out of the oven and put them back in when you get home after work. This is a very forgiving process. Just make sure that the moisture has evaporated, but that they’re still pliable, like leather (and not brittle).
The result after about 14 hours in the oven:
I add the tomatoes to bolster braises, pasta sauces, and salads, wherever I would normally use store-bought sun-dried tomatoes.