It's the end of summer and tomatoes are everywhere. Lovely round red tomatoes and multi-colored lumpy misshapen heirloom tomatoes and cute little cherry and grape tomatoes and oblong, flavorful roma tomatoes. And along with the tomatoes, tomato recipes abound. Capreses and salads and sauces and sandwiches--it seems impossible sometimes to find a dish that DOESN'T have tomatoes in some form.
So what's a girl to do when tomatoes are everywhere and ... she hates tomatoes? Why, dry the tomatoes of course! Dried tomatoes are so very different than fresh tomatoes. So different as to be a different fruit altogether. And I like dried tomatoes. Dried tomatoes are sweeter and that green flavor I don't like so much seems to get baked right out, replaced by a rich warmth that is much tastier to my palate. Also the chewy, meaty texture is more pleasing to me than the weird firm-yet-squishy texture of even a tomato grown with all the tender loving care of its farmer.
Generally I purchase sun-dried tomatoes as needed for recipes and what-not, but it always seems I only need a few and the rest sit around only to be thrown away eventually. But suddenly something occurred to me. DUH. Why don't I dry my own tomatoes? Then I can control not only the amount, but I can pick out the exact tomatoes I want to use. And it is cheaper than having them sundried for you, and an extremely simple process.
There are a few ways you can go about this. I'll start with the ways I DIDN'T do it. The traditional way of course, is to sun dry them. About.com has a good guide for how to sun dry tomatoes. This is a good method for all you folks who are dedicated to following old traditions and it may be true that letting the tomatoes really sun dry brings out better and more interesting flavors than other methods. I am guessing that in good old Los Angeles, however, my tomatoes would end up with essence of ROX, SOX and NOX (i.e., air pollution) infused right into them.
Other reasons I have for not doing this are:
1. Impatience: I can barely wait an hour to eat my food. I think waiting four days to two weeks would be near impossible. Not to mention by the time they were done, I would be SO over the tomatoes and on to something else.
2. EW! I don't know that I could stomach eating something that's been sitting around in my yard for days on end. I just ... don't normally eat stuff that's been hanging around outside, unless said hanging around was the activity otherwise known as "growing."
3. I have no private yard and my neighborhood is a hazardous place. If some nasty bugs didn't get into it (and the bugs around here WILL lift up a cheesecloth and stroll right on underneath), then a neighborhood dog would pee on it or get it, or some drunk would do something nasty to it. If the little tomatoes managed to escape all of that, then without a doubt my jerkface, loud-talker, speedfreak neighbor and his nasty little rat-dog or his jerkface, loud-talker, crybaby girlfriend would find SOME way to ruin them. I just know they would.
The other way I didn't dry the tomatoes was in a dehydrator. About.com also has instructions for how to do that. The reason I didn't choose this method is really very simple: I do not have a dehydrator.
Now that I've talked about the methods I didn't use, let's talk about the one I did: oven drying. I read a couple different things on how to oven dry tomatoes and was kind of amazed to find out that they all said different things. After all, there's not much too it. So I kind of took a consensus approach and here is what I did:
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit or to the lowest temperature on your setting. My lowest temperature of course, said 260. But then I discovered you can turn the dial lower than that lowest temperature. So I turned it down to the lowest I could turn it and decided to just keep on eye on things. Stupid apartment stove.
2. Wash however many tomatoes you are going to use. I used five roma tomatoes. What? I am only making one sandwich, I don't need that many dried tomatoes. Cut the ends off of the tomatoes and slice the remaining portion in half, lengthwise.
3. Arrange tomato halves on a baking sheet, making sure they are not touching each other. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. I used a sea salt that is mixed with a combo of dried herbs for some extra bonus flavor. Lightly drizzle with olive oil. This seems to be optional so I only gave it the lightest line of drizzle.
4. Throw in the oven for hours and hours and hours. There were various times suggested. After the first 2-4 hours, I would start checking the tomatoes once an hour to see how they are doing, because some are ready more quickly than others. I was able to take a few out at around 5 hours, and the rest were ready between 6-7 hours. I don't know what the temperature was though, so they may need more time depending on what temperature they are sitting in.
I also think I could have taken them all out at around 6 hours. However, I fell asleep before they were ready, which meant that I got up sometime in the middle of the night to take them out and I didn't have a lot of control over that. Those ones were a little dark, but looked palatable still. I think thanks to the olive oil.
As you can see from the picture, my dried tomatoes are at least partial successes in that they at least came out looking like dried tomatoes ought to look. The next test comes tonight when I throw them on my sandwich and see how they taste. I'll try to put up a picture and composition of said sandwich later, assuming all goes well.
|Thursday, August 31, 2006|