Sun-dried tomatoes are one of the more expensive items on store shelves, but amazingly easy to prepare at home! Oven-drying tomatoes is a simple way to concentrate the bland flavor of store-bought tomatoes. Because most conventional tomatoes are lying to you about their ripeness. Read on for the details, and how to make sun-dried tomatoes at home.
The tomato, an exposé
Have you ever bought a tomato? Sorry, dumb question.
Have you ever really tasted a tomato? Not such a dumb question because most of the time tomatoes are the sideshow. A little garnish for the burger, an afterthought for the salad. Not the main event, let alone a show stopper.
The large tomatoes above are heirlooms I ordered from a local farm delivery here in Boise, and the smaller ones are Brad's Atomic Grape tomatoes we grew in our inaugural backyard garden. The grape tomatoes proved an easy-to-grow for a first time gardener. And developed juicy, concentrated flavor as they actually ripened on the vine, unlike their store-bought cousins.
The lies your tomatoes are telling you
Mass-produced tomatoes, especially ones from Florida (above), are watered down, grainy versions of the real McCoy. And we can blame this on gas.
Yes, gas. ???? While tomatoes at specialty and farmer's markets are likely to be honest, most of the fruit at large chains is not ripened on the vine. It's picked under-ripe and gassed during processing. Ethylene, a plant-based enzyme turns them red, but does little else.
So to recap:
- a) your store-bought tomatoes are not honestly ripe
- b) are lying to you, and
- c) taste like, well, nothing
But not to fret, that last one we can fix. As for the others, contact your congressional representative.
My source + a good read
Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook is an in-depth (and quite scary) look at Florida’s tomato industry. If you have ever lived in Florida, heard of migrant workers or eaten a so-called “vine-ripened” tomato, I think it's worth a read. Estabrook's in-depth look at the tomato industry is both enlightening and alarming. The more we know about our food, the more power we have to change how it's grown.
Righting the wrongs of store-bought tomatoes
While we may not have the patience or bravery for actually drying out tomatoes in the sun, oven drying your tomatoes is a fast, easy method. It's simple and low-maintenance, and the best way to increase the natural flavors of a bland tomato.
Do this with a tomato from your backyard garden or farmer's market? BAM! You won't know what hit you.
How to make sun-dried tomatoes in your oven
To concentrate what flavor your tomatoes do possess, you must first introduce yourself to said oven.
"Hello oven, how are you? Have you been lonely while we used the Instapot and ordered take out?" Once you are acquainted, heat her up to anywhere from 170-200° F. The longer you plan to dry your tomatoes, the lower the temperature should be.
Slower drying = more flavor.
Slice up your lying, cheating tomatoes into halves or quarters and line them on a sheet pan. A rack is not essential, but it will allow for a faster drying process. I like to drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle on a little sea salt. If you really want to get wild, scatter a little fresh thyme or basil among them.
I've seen recipes that call for removing the seeds and jelly, but if there's any umami flavor in your tomato - that's where it lives. So scrape away the seeds if you prefer, but as for the jelly, I let it be.
Dry them out in the oven for four or five hours. I dried the ones above for about eight hours. If you want really low maintenance, dry them overnight at the lowest temperature your oven will allow, with the oven door cracked. This is really bringing it, as the longer the tomatoes dry, the more concentrated the flavors you create.
How to check for doneness
When done, tomatoes will be dry, chewy and easily bend without breaking. Once cooled, store the dried tomatoes submerged in olive oil in the refrigerator. I find I can keep mine for several weeks.
Add dried tomatoes anywhere and everywhere. I love the texture they add to a fresh pasta salad, the pop of color they give quinoa and especially the nuance they lend to weekend morning home fries. And that, my foodie friends, is the honest truth.
Yours in flavor,Print
The easiest kitchen venture ever! Five minutes to prep for the oven, and a low-maintenance bake that ends with big flavor.
- The best tomatoes you can find, I like using organic Roma or grape tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Optional: fresh-chopped herbs like thyme, basil, or rosemary
- Preheat oven to 200° F.
- Slice tomatoes into halves or quarters.
- Space out on a rack on a large baking pan. If you don't have a rack, just lay the tomatoes directly on the pan.
- Dry tomatoes out in oven at least five hours, or overnight.
- Store in refrigerator covered in olive oil for up to a month.
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