I think we can all agree that fresh tomatoes are incredible, so much so that growing tomatoes is probably the best argument I know for starting a home garden. The problem is, fresh tomatoes only last a couple months and then what do you do for decent tomato taste?
For year-round tomato goodness I think sun-dried tomatoes are hard to beat. They add intense flavor to dishes and store for a long time. They are expensive in the store, but are cheap to make yourself. Plus, you won’t believe how easy they are to make – check it out!
To make homemade sun-dried tomatoes (actually oven-dried, just don’t tell the tomato police) you need a cookie sheet, an oven and some paste tomatoes. Any tomatoes will work, but paste tomatoes like Roma are best because they have more “meat” and less seeds. It helps a lot if all of the tomatoes are the same size so they dry at the same rate.
Remove the stems and cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. You can scoop out the seeds if you want, but I don’t and they turn out fine. Place the tomatoes on the cookie sheet with the cut side up. That is it! You can add some salt or a little olive oil if you like, but neither is necessary.
The rule-of-thumb for drying tomatoes is “low and slow.” Place the tomatoes in the oven and set it to 200 degrees, less is good if your oven can go lower (I dry mine at 190).
Now you wait. And wait. And wait some more. The drying process can take 8-12 hours and possibly more depending on your oven and temperature setting. Don’t try to speed things up by setting the temperature higher – the trick is to evaporate the moisture to concentrate the flavor in the tomatoes without really cooking them. If time is a concern dry them overnight as you sleep.
The tomatoes are done when they have a pliable leathery texture like a dried apricot or a raisin. There is a bit of a delicate balance here — too dry and they crumble (as noted below), not dry enough and they are more apt to spoil in storage. Store your homemade sun-dried tomatoes in the refrigerator in glass jars or plastic bags, or freeze them for longer storage.
Want even more tomato-tasting goodness? Pack a glass jar with your homemade sun-dried tomatoes, fill it with olive oil and refrigerate for a couple weeks. You get the double-whammy of tomato-flavored olive oil to cook with AND you still get to use the tomatoes! Definitely a win-win.
The only “trick” to this process is to make sure you catch the tomatoes before they dry too much. I know this from experience – the dark red dried tomatoes in the upper right of the last photo are so dry they crumbled in my hand! Yeah, I tried to sneak in a couple small ones to finish out the sheet and you see what happened!
IF this happens to you all is not lost. I threw all of the really dry ones in the bag with the rest. After about 3 or 4 days they had picked up moisture from the other tomatoes and had softened up enough to use!
One of my biggest gardening goals this year was to learn how to make homemade sun-dried tomatoes – I actually planted Roma tomatoes just for this. I’m on my third batch already and the tomatoes keep coming and I keep cutting and drying. I don’t mind at all – come winter I’ll be savoring homemade sun-dried tomato goodness as I dream about next year’s garden and projects.