Sun-dry tomatoes yourself

Posted: September 01, 2011

In backyard and even front gardens, tomatoes are ripening on the vine. So, after you've had your fill of tomato sandwiches, and you've made some tomato sauce, consider making your own sun-dried tomatoes.

As the name implies, these are tomatoes dried in the sun, although they also can be dried in the oven or a dehydrator. When dried, the tomatoes shrivel up, become chewy, and develop an intense flavor that's great in salads and Mediterranean platters, pasta dishes, on pizza or on crostini.

Making sun-dried tomatoes is a great way to use up the bounty. Once dried, they can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for about a month.

Drying them in the oven is the best way to go when you don't have the climate to sun-dry them in a timely way. Or you can use a dehydrator, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Most sources say roma or plum tomatoes are best for drying because their size and shape make them shrivel to a perfect size.

To sun-dry tomatoes, remove the stems and rinse the tomatoes under water. Pat them dry and cut them in half lengthwise.

You can core and remove the seeds, but it's not necessary. Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomato halves skin side down on the parchment. Squeeze as many halves as you can on the pan because they shrink.

Preheat the oven to 200 to 225 degrees. Bake for 8 to 10 hours for tomatoes that are about 31/2 inches long. Smaller tomatoes will take less time. Start checking them after about 6 hours.

Don't forget about them, as I did once. I left the tomatoes overnight and ended up with a charred mess I had to toss.

The tomatoes are ready when they are a deep red and about half their original size. Remove them from the oven and cool. For best quality, keep them in the refrigerator for about a month or in the freezer for six months.

To use, rehydrate in hot water if they are super hard. Use kitchen scissors to cut them.

Here's another method I've used, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe:

Follow the instructions above, preheating the oven to 275 degrees. Season the tomatoes with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil and fresh herbs, if you like. Bake the tomatoes until they are shriveled but still a little moist, about 2 hours or longer. Remove from the oven and cool. Refrigerate up to one week. These are terrific to chop and use in pasta dishes or on crostini.

If you don't want to dry them yourself, you can buy them at grocery stores sold dry-packed (which need to be rehydrated), packed in oil, or ready to eat. But you'll pay more than if you dried them yourself.