Sunday, October 15, 2006

Homemade sun-dried tomatoes: the perfect use for end-of-season tomatoes

Here in Portland, tomato season is winding down. I'm still getting a few slicers, but they often get mushy or icky before they fully ripen. So I pick them when they're pink and let them ripen on my counter. My cherry tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, but they often split before I get around to harvesting them. I think it's due to the wet, dewy mornings and occasional rain showers. Soon we'll have our first frost, and I'll need to pick all the decently-developed green tomatoes to ripen in the house. So, whether they're slicers or cherry tomatoes, what I'm harvesting now isn't of high enough quality for eating out of hand. But I hate to waste them. What to do?

The most common answer is, make sauce! Yep, that works, but one can only use so much tomato sauce. And sauce isn't a practical option for cherry tomatoes, because it's way too much work to peel them. This year I tried something different -- drying them. The Cooking Inn has some good instructions, but I found a few problems with them. Their instructions for preparing cherry tomatoes are fine. But when I used their cooking temperatures, the tomatoes burned very quickly. I had better luck using lower temperatures for a longer period. Here's how I dried a boatload of cherry tomatoes, most of which were split but otherwise in good shape:

Homemade Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
(Well, they're really oven-dried. What did you expect from an Oregonian?)
  1. Preheat oven to about 200-250 degrees
  2. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or lightly grease with oil.
  3. Rinse cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Split ones are OK as long as they aren't discolored or starting to rot.
  4. Place tomatoes cut side up on baking sheet.
  5. Put tomatoes in oven and turn temperature down below 200. I recommend experimenting to get the right temperature. I had the best luck with my electric oven set a little below 200 with the door slightly ajar.
  6. Bake till dry but still pliable. I did mine till they were no longer sticky to the touch. You don't want to get them crunchy, because they'll be harder to use in recipes, especially pesto or something similar that has to be processed in a blender.
  7. Store them in jars with lids. You can pack them in oil (instructions available at the link mentioned above) or just store them dry.

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