April 7, 2014

Make It At Home : Oven Dried/ Sun Dried Tomatoes

W

hat do you do when you have an overabundance of seasonal vegetables or fruit? I’d guess the answer would be to preserve them in some way so that you can continue to savour them the rest of the year when the craving for them hits.
There are however some fruit or vegetables which are available the year around in some parts of the world. I’m lucky enough to live in one such part of the world where tomatoes are available fresh all the year round. There are times when they’re a whole lot more affordable than at other times, but its one vegetable (fruit actually) that we tend to take pretty much for granted in India.
It’s also one thing that I rarely think of preserving unlike other fruit like strawberries or figs for example. If I ever feel like making some tomato jam, or pickle or even batches of Marinara sauce, I just drive down to the market and buy a slightly larger than usual quantity of tomatoes, and I’m good to go.
So anything that has to do with preserving tomatoes, I tend to do on a whim, and it usually takes me a little more time than I need to go and buy the required quantity of tomatoes. The exception is with the Marinara sauce which I mostly make in a large batch and there’s always some in stock in my freezer.
 
 
 This is probably why I never got around to sun drying tomatoes. Well, I did try it once but the day I decided to sun dry them (and it was the height of summer), the sun decided to play hooky and two days of cloudy skies meant that I ended up with tomatoes that became fertile landscape for very odd coloured mould and 2 kilos of tomatoes had to be binned!
That was it for me and sun dried tomatoes for a while, but you know that if you like Italian food then you can’t really escape them for long. On a trip to my local supermarket (we have only a couple of stores that qualify for that description where I live) recently, I discovered small packets of sun dried tomatoes being sold at ridiculously high prices, and that got me thinking about making my own again.
This time, the sun’s not the problem as the sun has been shining with a vengeance since March and the mercury now averages 37C (that’s 100F) at a time of the year when it should be at least 5C (40F) cooler! My problem now is that thanks to the real estate business which is hell bent to developing this place like there’s no tomorrow, there’s so much dust in the air, I feel it’s no longer safe to sun dry my food.
So I chose to use my oven instead. This method is much faster but then I lose out on the flavour which only the sun can bring to sun dried tomatoes, but I have little choice. Oven drying tomatoes is pretty easy to do, and all you need are the tomatoes and salt. You can always add other flavours by adding garlic, herbs or pepper/ chilli flakes to the tomatoes before you put them into the oven.
 
 
I see some people like to remove the seeds from their tomatoes, and others salting the tomatoes and then draining the liquid so that the tomatoes dry faster. I prefer to leave the seeds in because it means less work for me, and of course, they look rustic and nice once they’ve dried out.

You can dry any kind of tomato including cherry tomatoes. Out here, cherry tomatoes are not available everywhere and when they are they are too expensive to buy them in the quantities required for dehydrating them. Ripe but firm tomatoes of any variety can be dried.
You will need a large quantity as the tomatoes dry out to more than 3/4 their volume, so I would suggest you work with about 5 kilos of tomatoes at least to make this worthwhile. The recipe below uses just 1 1/2 kg and that’s ok if you’re doing this for the first time and just want o see how the process works out.
Use rimmed baking sheets and line them with aluminium foil so that so that if there’s any liquid from the tomatoes, it won’t leave a mess to clean up.
If you would like to sun dry your tomatoes, follow the same method for preparing the tomatoes. Then place them in the sun and let them dry out the whole day. Bring them in as soon as the sun starts going down for the day. Don’t forget to cover your trays with some sort of thin netting to make sure nothing falls into the tomatoes. Place them in the sun the next day again until the tomatoes are no longer wet and quite dry to touch. They should have lost about 85% of their moisture. Then store them in oil or as they are and refrigerate.
 
 
You can use oven dried tomatoes in many different ways. Eat them plain (I love them this way), put them in sandwiches, or cook them in sauces, soups, and stews.  Use them as topping for pizza or focaccia, chopped up in dips, or bake them in breads.
If they are not packed in oil, dried tomatoes will need to be reconstituted before use. Let them soak in warm water for thirty minutes until they’re soft and pliable. Pat dry and then use. Do not discard the soaking liquid as you can use it to add flavour to stocks and sauces.
To reconstitute dehydrated tomatoes in oil, cover the dried tomatoes with oil and refrigerate for 24 hours. Make sure that the tomatoes left in the jar are completely covered with oil, adding a little more if necessary. The oil in which the tomatoes are soaked makes excellent flavoured oil to use in salad dressings or for sautéing.

Oven Dried Tomatoes
 
Ingredients:
1 1/2 kg firm red tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano (or herbs of your choice/ optional)
 
Method:
Line two rimmed baking trays with aluminium foil. Trim and discard the stem ends of all the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into two lengthwise or four if your tomatoes are big. Arrange them in a single layer, cut sides up on the trays.
Season the tomato pieces with salt, pepper, sugar and the herbs.
 
 
Bake them at 150C (300F) for about 2 hours and then at 120C (250F) for about 45 minutes or so until the tomatoes are dry and feel slightly soft in the centre.
Let them cool in the oven.  Once they’re completely cool, transfer to an airtight glass jar and add enough extra virgin olive oil so the tomatoes are submerged. Refrigerate. You can also refrigerate them without the oil, of you prefer that. These oven-dried tomatoes keep well for up to 3 months in the freezer in zip lock/ freezer bags.
This recipe will give a small jar of oven dried tomatoes, so please use larger quantities of tomatoes for a larger yield.

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