Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hold the Tomato

"three tomatoes are walking down the street- a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. baby tomato starts lagging behind. poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and smooshes him... and says, catch up!"

I am a huge fan of sun dried tomatoes.  They are rich and flavorful.  They add color and texture to the recipes they are added to. The downfall . . . they are VERY expensive. 

Considered a food staple in Italy and the Mediterranean, sun dried tomatoes are deemed a gourmet item in America.

Besides the obvious benefits to preserving tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes have the same nutritional value as fresh tomatoes: they are high in Lycopene, antioxidants, vitamin C and low in sodium, fat, and calories.

The best tomatoes to use in dehydrating are firm, ripe and meaty varieties with fewer seeds and less water content.  Italian/Roma tomatoes are a good option and Beefsteaks are not recommended. 
The amount of time it takes to dry tomatoes depends on the variety of the tomato, the humidity in the air during the drying process, the thickness of the slices or pieces, and the efficiency of your dehydrator or oven.  You can split smaller tomatoes and slice round tomato varieties in ¼-inch thick slices.

Properly dried tomatoes have a dark red color and feel dry and leathery, but not hard and brittle. They should not be "tacky" or moist. When touched in the center, no tomato pulp should stick to the finger.

My method for drying is using an electric dehydrator.  It maintains a low, even temperature and good air circulation.   

Set the dehydrator temperature at 135° to 140°F. If your dehydrator does not have a thermostat, place an accurate, easily read thermometer on the bottom tray. Place the prepared tomatoes on trays close together but not touching, leaving 1 to 2 inches between trays.

Near the end of the drying time, the tomatoes may scorch easily, so examine them occasionally and remove dried tomatoes.


  • Thoroughly clean dehydrator according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Use a cooking spray or olive oil to lightly grease the trays (this will prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the tray).
  • Clean tomatoes in cool water. Remove stems and any blemishes.
  • Blanch the tomatoes and remove the skins, if desired.
  • Slice tomatoes between an 1/8” to a ¼” thick. (How thick you slice the tomato depends on your personal preference and the depth of your dehydrator’s trays.)
  • Arrange sliced tomatoes on the tray. Place them as close as possible to each other while not allowing the slices to touch.

  • Turn on your dehydrator. Depending on the style of your dehydrator and the amount of liquid in your produce, it will take 12-48 hours for the tomatoes to become properly dried (they should be about the texture and density of a raisin).

  • When the tomatoes are dried, turn off the dehydrator and allow them to cool on the trays.

    You can use an oven to dry tomatoes but it’s more difficult to keep a low, stable temperature. 
    Do not attempt to use your microwave to dry tomatoes. They require constant attention, and the door must be opened frequently to allow moisture to escape. Microwave dried tomatoes do not dry evenly, and can easily scorch or burn.

    Packaging and Storage

    Dehydrated tomatoes require very little space to store. Completely dried tomatoes can be stored in plastic bags, airtight jars or other suitable containers. Pack the tomatoes tightly, and squeeze out all excess air. They may be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place; however, you must be sure that the tomatoes are properly dried or  you run the risk of mold growing on them. It is safer to store them in the freezer or packed in oil. The color, flavor, aroma, and nutritive value will deteriorate after about a year – they last longer in the freezer.

    My preference . . . pack them in a good quality olive oil.  The oil adds extra preservative value by not allowing air to come in contact with the tomatoes.  And, when you’ve used up all the tomatoes you have a wonderful tomato infused olive oil to use for cooking or dressings.
    Some people feel that sun-dried tomatoes need to be reconstituted before use. While it is not necessary, it is easy to do.

    Reconstituting in Water

    1. Place the tomatoes in a heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water.
    2. Let stand for thirty minutes.
    3. Strain off the water and use tomatoes.
    Essence of Dried Tomatoes
    1 cup dried tomatoes, moderately packed
    2 cloves garlic, peeled
    2 teaspoons capers, drained
    1 tablespoon fresh basil, coarsely chopped, (or 1-1/2 teaspoon dried)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

    Place tomatoes, garlic, capers and basil in bowl of food processor. Process just until mixture is chopped, NOT pureed. Add oil and vinegar and pulse food processor just until mixture is combined.

    2. Place in covered jar and store in refrigerator.

    Some suggestions for using dried tomato essence
    Sandwich spread
    Mock pizza, with English muffins and cheese.
    Tomato-based pasta sauce
    Dips and salad dressings
    Stuffing for deviled eggs
    With pesto—toss with pasta
    Spread on cream cheese and crackers
    Add to tuna, chicken, potato, pasta or veggie salads

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