Basics: 'Sun-dried' Tomatoes In Oven

Posted: November 02, 1988

Most people who have tasted sun-dried tomatoes concede that they are delicious and lend themselves to many wonderful uses. And all agree that they're expensive, ranging from about $16 to more than $25 a pound. Plus, an 8 1/2-ounce jar of sun-dried tomatoes just doesn't last very long.

If you decide to beat the cost and make them yourself, most recipes are time-consuming, requiring a week of drying and turning. They're also barely feasible for urban dwellers or people who live where the sunlight isn't especially strong and the air isn't especially dry.

The fact is you can make a good version of sun-dried tomatoes, which is actually a food of the less affluent people of Sicily. Your only food cost will be the price of the tomatoes, some good olive oil and fresh basil. What you'll have are oven-dried tomatoes.

Once your oven-dried tomatoes are done, pack them in olive oil with basil and use them for antipasti, serve them on thinly sliced provolone with anchovy, goat's cheese or smoked mozzarella, or chop them to intensify the flavor of fresh tomatoes in sauces.

By making them yourself, you not only save some money but you also can control the taste of the product (some commercial brands are too salty). Here is a basic recipe for oven-dried tomatoes that are good as is, but to which seasonings - dried pepper flakes, minced garlic, oregano and parsley - in any combination can be added to taste. Be sure to use fresh Italian plum tomatoes.

OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES

Ripe plum tomatoes

Coarse salt

Fresh basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Wash and dry the tomatoes, slice in half lengthwise, and place each half on a rack, skin-side down, atop a broiler pan.

Sprinkle tomatoes with the salt, and place in a preheated 250-degree oven. After about eight hours in the oven, they should be dried and look something like prunes. Check from time to time to be sure the heat is not too high, which could cause the tomatoes to darken or become crisp and burned-looking at the edges.

Remove the dried tomatoes from the oven and let cool. Pack them in

sterilized jars, covering each layer with a basil leaf (and other seasonings, if desired) and the olive oil. The top tomatoes should be covered with oil.

Seal the jars, and store them in a cool, dark place, until ready to use. Theoretically, the dried tomatoes, covered with oil, can be kept for an extended period. However, if the tomatoes change color or if mold forms, do not use them.

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