All year we wait for the taste of fresh, local tomatoes. When they finally ripen, many of us practically live on them for weeks on end. Then begins the search for ways to preserve that late-summer abundance.
One of the easiest and most satisfying methods is the ancient technique of drying. Making your own sun-dried tomatoes may sound romantic, but it takes days and the weather does not cooperate with any regularity in most parts of the country.
Oven-drying is a simple, reliable way to preserve rich tomato taste for use throughout the year. Oven-dried tomatoes are also superior in some ways. They are more pliable and less salty than commercial sun-dried tomatoes. So tackle those baskets of overflowing tomatoes and preserve your own taste of summer.
1. Heat oven to 250°F. Line a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a rack, such as a cake-cooling rack, in the foil-lined pan.
2. Wash 3 pounds of Italian plum tomatoes (about 26 medium) and cut out the stem core.
3. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds, leaving just the shell. A grapefruit spoon works well.
4. Blot excess moisture from the tomatoes with paper towels.
5. Arrange tomatoes on the rack, cut side up. They can be placed closely together since they shrink considerably during baking.
6. Bake 3 to 4 hours, checking tomatoes occasionally. If liquid collects in tomatoes, turn them with tongs to remove it.
7. Tomatoes are done with they are dry but still pliable, not brittle.
8. Store in resealable plastic bags three to four days in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to eight months.
TIP If you double the recipe, switch the oven rack position of the two pans halfway through baking.
Great Ways to Use Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Oven-dried tomatoes can be used just as they are. They can also be soaked in hot water or hot chicken broth for 5 to 10 minutes, or marinated in olive oil for up to a week in the refrigerator.
• Sprinkle chopped oven-dried tomatoes over salad.
• Add to soup, pasta sauce or other recipes.
• Add to fresh tomato sauce for a double hit of flavor.
• Sauté with chicken, beef or pork.
• For a quick pasta dish, sauté several garlic cloves in olive oil. Add chopped oven-dried tomatoes and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Toss with hot, cooked pasta, crumbled goat cheese and fresh basil leaves.
• Stir into Rice or couscous for color and flavor.
• Add to meatloaf or hamburgers.
• Use reconstituted tomatoes as a pizza topping.
• Stir them into homemade or purchased salsa.
• Add to pasta salad.
• Stir into mashed potatoes.
We recommend this recipe for Feta Chicken Salad with Oven-Dried Tomatoes.. If you don't have chicken on hand, you can substitute canned tuna.