There is nothing I like more than throwing a handful of sundried tomatoes into a dish to add a bit of tangy punch and a little bit of summer. Tonight, I wandered out to the tomato and pepper bed, rounded the corner, and ta-dah! The sundrying tomatoes are ripening! Start your (dehydrating) engines and sterilize the Mason jars–it’s time to start drying.
A couple of years ago, I got fed up paying so much money for dehydrated tomatoes in the store when I knew I could do it myself. I will admit, I do not actually “sun dry” mine. I bought a relatively affordable and effective dehydrator and started making my own dried tomatoes. I like to slice them thinly so they almost become crunchy. No worries though–once I bake, saute, or cook them, they soak up moisture and taste just like they did in July.
Some quick tips for dehydrating/drying tomatoes:
- Using a tomato grown for drying makes the process much easier. I have been using Amish Paste and Principe Borghese from my favorite seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com). They are both very flavorful and are great for other recipes that require a tomato with less juice and more “meat.” They are also a great size for slicing and drying–small enough to stay together to make beautiful circles which look lovely baked in an omelet or stirred into pasta.
- Tomatoes will shrink. If you want a decent amount of dried tomatoes to get you through fall and winter, make sure you plan for several visits to the garden/market and even more trips to the dehydrator.
- I prefer a dehydrator because you can control the temperature and air circulation so that the tomatoes dry evenly. My dehydrator with four trays usually dries thinly sliced tomatoes overnight (8-12 hours); the thicker the tomato slice, the longer the dry time.
- Seeding the tomatoes will help them dry more quickly.
- Since I slice mine thinly, I don’t remove the skins. Some people prefer to, but I find that they cook just fine and the texture and flavor are fine with me.
- Do spray the dehydrator trays with a thin coat of oil or coking spray. It will make removal much, much easier. Believe me and my fingernails–dried tomatoes can be a bit like bamboo shoots if you end up scraping them off the trays.
- Let the tomatoes cool all the way before packaging.
There are several methods for packing and storing dehydrated tomatoes. The primary goal is to keep them dry until you are ready to rehydrate–the last thing you want to find is mold or some other creature taking over your delicious goodies. Some suggested packaging: zip-top bags, stuff and seal bags, containers with lids, and my personal favorite–Mason jars. As a precaution, I sterilize my jars, either in a boiling water bath or in the dishwasher, then let them air dry.
Now that you’ve dried and stored your tomatoes, what to do with them? Some of my favorites:
- For breakfast, I make an omelet or egg souffle with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and feta cheese.
- I throw a cup into marinara sauce and soup (homemade or store bought) to add texture and flavor.
- I bake them in bread dough with basil and parmesan cheese for gift-giving.
- I add some into a crock pot with chicken, garlic, onion, and herbs for a quick dinner on an autumn eve.
- I add to dips for color and flavor.
So now that you know the ins and outs of drying tomatoes, give it a try–your wallet and your recipes will thank you!