We had hoped to have cooked from our outdoor oven by now and were planning on drying the tomatoes in its post-baking warmth. However this Summer turned into non-stop madness and there was no time for such epic projects. So after our San Marzano tomatoes started reddening its oblong masses, we went to Plan B, going super old school and slowly drying the tomatoes in the sun over many days. Sure we could have heated up the kitchen’s oven and dried them in there over a fraction of a day. But where was the romance in that? How beautiful would it be to have the tomatoes slowly kissed by the sun over a few warm summer days. The gentle summer breeze wrapping its warmth around the tomatoes, reducing them to perfectly concentrated and preserved little delicacies.
We’re always curious to discover the “how tos” and “best ways” of dishes and ingredients we love. We want to know how to make something ourselves and find out if we can make it better than what we are able to buy. Is there something extraordinarily special about the way something was traditionally done, or can modern conveniences do just as good or better of a job? This summer we decided to delve into sun-dried tomatoes. The process is as simple as it gets. Slice, add some herbs if you like, then either dry in the oven at 180° F over many hours (8-10 hours depending on thickness and type of tomatoes) or dry them in the sun over many days. Dry them until they have the consistency of a plump raisin, then store the tomatoes in a vacuum sealed (or air-removed ziplock) or packed in olive oil and sealed jars.
ta da! before and after the sun tan
Custom screen frame built for
the tomatoes to dry in the sun. Kinda rough but created the airspace.
Ideally you want the air to be able to circulate all around the tomato slices so they will dry evenly. In the oven, a wire cooling rack used on top of a sheet pan works great. For testing our this sun dried tomato recipe, we wanted something bigger so we quickly rigged up a drying rack using a couple pieces of wood and some window screen mesh. We used the screen under the tomatoes for air circulation and over the top of the tomatoes to keep the bugs off. It would be very easy for someone to make a proper frame for drying the tomatoes, however our drying rack was tossed together as a rush job done in a few minutes before heading out the door. Looks “rustic” but worked perfect.
We sliced the tomatoes in varying thickness to see how each of them dried, since I wasn’t trusting that and 1 1/2″ plum tomato would have the best texture if merely cut in half. In the end it did. The ones cut into 1/2 or 1/3rds for an 1 1/2″ thick tomato dried the best. The ones cut thinner became too thin after drying. Still tasty though. Are they any better than drying them in the oven? That is hard to say but these particular tomatoes were quite tasty, and we didn’t do a side by side dehydrate off. Plus it was simple, took virtually no prep time, just a few days of waiting and checking, and the oven didn’t have to be turned on in the summer’s heat.
Happy Summer. – Todd and Diane
- several pounds Plum or Paste Tomatoes , sliced lengthwise (for an 1" to 1 1/2" thick tomato, slice no thinner than in thirds)
- Chopped Herbs oregano, thyme, etc... optional
- Sea Salt
- frame with screen mesh to lay tomatoes on & more screen mesh to lay over the top to keep bugs off
Slice the tomatoes & lay on framed screen mesh. Season with optional herbs and sea salt. Cover with another layer of screen mesh and place in a sunny spot. Leave outside for several days (may be longer, depends on weather, thickness of tomato, water content, etc...) Sun dried tomatoes are done drying when the texture is no longer tacky, and it resembles a plump raisin.
Store in a vacuum sealed bag (or zip lock with air removed) in fridge or freezer for up to a year, or store packed in olive oil and sealed in a sterile canning jar (can be left in a cool place).