Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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drying tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes may be a 90s food cliche, but for good reason—they’re useful, delicious, and a nice change from canned in the depths of winter. Drying tomatoes yourself is easy-peasy. Do it in several batches throughout late summer and fall, and then use them until tomato season comes again. You don’t need a dehydrator—an oven or several hot, sunny days will do. 

Drying tomatoes

Processing

Paste-type tomatoes are easiest to process for drying, but more or less any kind of tomato will do (big knobbly heirloom types are kind of wasted here, though). If the tomatoes are small, like my little Juliets, just cut them in half. If they are large, core them and cut in halves, quarters, or sixths. They’ll shrink up to around a quarter of their starting thickness, so pick a size that will make them versatile to use but easy to store.

If you are using a globe tomato, you may want to remove the seeds to speed up drying time and end up with a better-textured product. You don’t need to get each and every one; just run your fingers into the cavities to clear out most of them. 

You can salt them if you like, but it’s difficult to predict how salty the dehydrated product will be. I just wait until I use them.

Dry


  • Dehydrator: This is a no-brainer. Just spread the tomatoes, cut side up, on dehydrator trays. Dry at medium-low temperature (around 130F, if your dehydrator has a thermostat) until done, rotating trays as necessary for even drying. 
  • Oven: Set your oven to the absolute lowest setting. If it is higher than 175F or so, prop the oven door open a crack with a wooden spoon handle or the like. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on racks set over baking sheets; dry until done, rotating sheets and racks as needed.
  • Sunshine: Wait for a week of hot (80F+) sunshine. Arrange tomatoes on racks set over trays for easy handling. Tent them with a layer of cheesecloth to keep off birds and insects. Set out in a sunny spot on a hot day; move them as needed to stay in the sun. Bring them in at night to keep evening humidity from ruining your hard work; take them out again the next day.

Time needed: The dehydrator method will take from 8-24 hours, depending on the efficiency of your dehydrator and your tomatoes. The oven method will take around the same amount of time. Sunshine can require up to a week, depending on the humidity in your area.

Storage


Test several different tomatoes from several different racks to decide when the whole batch is done. The tomatoes should feel leathery, not brittle—when you cut one open, it should not feel sticky. There should be no visible or free water or juice.

When the whole batch is done, let them cool and store them together in an airtight container; use clean, dry hands and utensils to get tomatoes out. A cool, dark shelf is fine. Use within 9 months or so for the best texture and flavor.

Ideas for dried tomatoes

Dried tomatoes rehydrate easily. Plump them with warm water to use in salads, pastas, and pizzas; hydrate them with oil and herbs and layer with goat cheese and pesto; throw them into soups; process with oil and pine nuts for pesto rosso to toss with linguine or use on bruschetta. Use them, hydrated and finely minced, as a substitute for tomato paste. Or just eat them straight out of the bag or jar.

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