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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Drying Tomatoes

These are called dried tomatoes, and not sun dried tomatoes because they aren't dried in the sun, they are dried in the oven. But for some reason oven dried tomatoes sounds decidedly less exotic. It's a very simple process but be sure you have plenty of time. Simple does not mean quick in this case.

You start with 12-15 Roma tomatoes. Washed the tomato and remove any blemishes and the core.

Then cut in half lengthwise and place face down on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet.

Place in a very low oven, about 225 degrees. There they will remain for between 7-10 hours. I said it wasn't quick. But think of it this way, if you have nothing else going on that day and you won't need the oven for anything else, you can be making your own delicious dried tomatoes the day you clean house or catch up on your soaps, or whatever else you may need to do around the house and the added bonus is the aroma. I cannot express to you in words adequate enough how amazing the smell of roasting tomatoes is. I thought having a pot of sauce on the stove all day was intoxicating, but this is even better.

Here's what they look like after two hours:

And after six hours they are almost done:

I took them out after about seven and half hours, almost eight.

They should be pliable and not brittle. They will have the texture of a piece of dried fruit. This was 12 tomatoes and they shrink considerably so don't be surprised if you don't end up with much yield. This turned out to be enough for one jar.

Speaking of jars, you will need a good old fashioned jar with a lead that seals. I have plenty of these lying around from the various jams, jellies, salsas, stewed tomatoes and whatever else my Grandma decided to make and give. These jars never go out of style so I just always kept them if she didn't want them back. I just needed to buy new lids. So sterilize your jar and your lids. They have to be completely clean and sterilized. You can do this in a dishwasher but since the only dishwasher I have is named Nick, I put my jar and lids in a pot of boiling water and let it rip for about 5-10 minutes. Take them out very carefully, not touching the lip of either lid or jar and let cool/dry on a clean dish towel.

While you're boiling your jar in one pan, in another pan put about two cups of red wine vinegar in the pot to boil. Make sure it's a stainless pot, not aluminum. Vinegar reacts funny to aluminum.

Once the vinegar is boiling, drop your dried tomatoes in and stir them around. Let boil for about 30-60 seconds. That's SECONDS, not minutes. You just want to blanch them quickly then remove with a slotted spoon to some paper towels to dry. The vinegar helps preserve the tomatoes in addition to adding another level of flavor.

Once your jar is ready and your tomatoes are cooled, it's time to start putting it all together. You can put whatever seasonings in the jar with the tomatoes you like but I stuck to very simple tried and true flavors, tomato and basil. So into the jar I put a couple basil leaves.

Then started to add my tomatoes.

You can layer tomatoes then basil, salt and peppercorns or you can just put in the tomatoes. Whatever you like. When I reached the top of the jar but wasn't cramming the tomatoes in, just a nice layering of tomatoes and basil, I added some course sea salt.

Now for the olive oil. Take your Extra Virgin Olive Oil and slowly being to pour it into the jar. This is going to take a lot of oil because you want it to come all the way to the top of the jar and have the tomatoes completely submerged. Press down lightly with the handle of a wooden spoon. You'll see that the spoon is helping to release pockets of air that have to be removed from the jar or you're just asking for mold. It will take some patience and some jiggling to get all the air bubbles out. But make sure you do!

Put on your lid and set in a cool place (do not refrigerate). The next day, open the jar to make sure that the tomatoes didn't soak up too much oil and that they are still completely submerged. If there is any tomatoes out of oil, top the jar off with more. You may want to check this periodically to make sure the tomatoes stay under the oil.

Now, here's the sad part. Set them in a cool place (again, not the refrigerator!) for six weeks! Yes, six weeks until you can bask in the joy of your own dried tomatoes. But think of it this way, in six weeks you not only have these glorious tomatoes to do with whatever you want, but you'll also have a delicious jar of dried tomato flavored olive oil! Yum.

Mine will be ready for eating on March 2. I can hardly wait!!! After you start using them, they should then be refrigerated then brought to room temperature before using.

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