Self-Preservation: Tomatoes August 31, 2010Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking Series, Food, Garden.
Tags: Cooking, gardening
While I’ve been bemoaning the eventual demise of our gorgeous summer, I’ve also been planning ahead. Oh yes I have, because, really, that’s one of my best things.
Remember the grasshopper and the ant? And how the grasshopper spent the whole summer at the beach, drinking margaritas and partying all night, but the ant worked in the garden and got a new roof and, in general, prepared for winter?
Well, once winter comes, what do you suppose that old grasshopper is going to do for sun-dried tomatoes?
I’ll tell you what she’s going to do. She’s probably going to go to her local supermarket or even Amazon and spend ridiculous amounts of money for a couple of ounces of the silly things.
Yeah, and what do you think the wise old ant is going to do?
She’ll go to her freezer and haul out her baggie of homegrown, that’s what. (Tomatoes. Homegrown tomatoes, that is. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, you know.)
Me, I’m more an ant than a grasshopper – that partying all night? I’m far too old and tired for that anymore. Give me a nice home in the suburbs, a garden, and some zip-loc bags, and I’ll party all I need to, thank you.
So I’m going to tell you what you need to know about “sun” dried tomatoes.
First off, you don’t actually need the actual sun (well, except in the sense that you need the sun to grow the tomatoes, but you know that’s not what I mean, right?)
And you don’t need any fancy equipment like a food dehydrator.
Nope, what you need is your oven, a sheet pan, and a wire rack. That’s it.
And, of course, an understanding of tomatoes.
See, here’s the thing. Tomatoes are mostly water. Water is not really conducive to dried food – the idea behind drying is to remove the water and retain the, well, the other stuff.
So the first thing we do is split the tomatoes in half and remove most of the liquid. (And the seeds – who wants dried seeds in their whatever-they’re-making?)
Lay the tomatoes – cut side down – on a wire rack set over a sheet pan.
I like to line the sheet pan with a silicone mat (or parchment, or even foil) because, well, no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get all the liquid out of the tomatoes, and it WILL drip onto the pan. Silicone is easier to clean than stainless.
Always thinking, I am.
Speaking of thinking.
Let me share a lesson I learned last summer.
All those seeds and that liquid that you’re scraping out of the tomatoes? You do NOT want to compost it. I mean, sure, it seems like it’s exactly what the composter was made for, doesn’t it?
But trust me. If you throw those tomato seeds into the compost bucket, next summer you’re going to have random tomato plants popping up all over your garden, and every time you pull one up, you’re going to ask yourself “what if.”
You don’t want to go there, do you? I thought not.
So take your tomatoes and lay them out flat on a wire rack (and if you’re clever, which I know you are, you will have sprayed the rack with non-stick spray first because, really, why not?), and pierce them each several times with a fork.
Yes, those are all my tomatoes. Actually, they’re not all OF my tomatoes – they were actually about half of my tomatoes at that moment. But they all came from the garden.
I’ve evidently got some juicy tomatoes. They need a little extra, um, incentive to dry, I guess.
Did I mention that all this tomato cleaning usually goes on directly after I get home from walking the dog?
Yeah, I try to get them in the oven by 6 – then I go upstairs and get ready for work.
Oh yeah. I leave the oven on when I go to work. And Peeps gets home several hours later (around noon-ish) and he finds a note asking him to check the tomatoes.
Tomatoes which are significantly shrunken, but not yet “dry.”
You can see, at noon they were still pretty puffy, weren’t they?
That’s not quite what we’re going for, so he just left them in the oven.
I shut the oven off and just let the residual heat finish the job – in other words, we had puppy swim at 4 and didn’t have time to take care of them, and we didn’t want to leave them in a hot oven for yet another couple of hours.
(But I’m going with residual heat.)
Once the tomatoes are dried to your satisfaction, pull them from the oven, let them finish cooling, then just bag ’em up, pop them in the freezer, and wait for winter – when you can go to the supermarket and scoff at the little tiny bags of sun-dried tomatoes, secure in the knowledge that what you’ve got in your freezer is far superior to anything you’re going to find in a pouch in the produce department.