The tomatoes are coming in fast and furious now and keeping up with the harvest is a challenge, but a very satisfying one! It breaks my heart to waste a good tomato. So the Spice Girls (our chickens) get the less than perfect ones, and they love them! I love not having to toss them away in the compost pile.
Last year, I blanched and froze my extra tomatoes, especially the meaty Romas, which make great sauce. This tomato season I wanted to experiment with something a little different, so I planted several of the lovely Principe Borghese Tomato. This Italian heirloom tomato works especially well for drying. The Italians know their tomatoes! The leafy green vines are about ten feet tall now, and the smallish tomatoes grow in clusters, almost like grapes. Sweet and meaty, they contain few seeds. Perfect! If I lived in a hot, dry climate, I would dry them outside in the sun on a screen. But here in North Florida, it’s very humid, and we often get afternoon rains–not a conducive environment to sun drying. Luckily the same results can be achieved by drying tomatoes (and other veggies for that matter) in a slow oven.
Dried tomatoes are packed with intense flavor and are wonderful to have on hand in the kitchen. We seem to be eating most of ours straight out of the oven, but if there are any left they can be used in sauces and soups, sprinkled on salads, and so forth. Toss some dried tomatoes into al dente angel hair pasta along with some olive oil, a little fresh basil, shaved parmesan, a little minced garlic, chopped parsley and some cracked black pepper. Reconstitute dried tomatoes in boiling water and red wine, and make a kickass sauce for pasta or lamb! Lettuce, dried tomatoes, goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, evoo and shallots are sublime for a light Sunday lunch on a hot summer afternoon. Give a few dried tomatoes to your adventurous child to snack on. Live a little.
Here’s what you do:
Select about five pounds of tomatoes–nice and firm, and ripe. Give each tomato a good wash and then trim its stem and slice it in half. Trim off any imperfections, too. Spread the sliced tomatoes on a baking rack, making sure they do no touch each other. They need good air circulation to dry evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt to bring out the flavor and aid in drying. I also sprinkled a little fresh basil on top, just for fun.
Place the baking racks directly on your oven rack, and set the temperature for about 200 degrees, or your oven’s lowest setting. Let them slowly dry for about 6-12 hours. You will know they are done when they are shriveled and a little leathery, but not brittle. Let cool completely on the baking racks and then store in sealed plastic bags in the freezer. They will keep indefinitely.