Tomato Heaven

The harvest just keeps coming! Here’s how to preserve some of that fruit

I’m knee-deep in tomatoes — a joy after last year’s blight left us with only about 10 pounds of ripe, fresh ones in the entire Hudson Valley. So I’m busily canning and making sauce, and sun-drying the ridiculous amount of surplus cherry-style tomatoes I grew. (I never learn.)

Drying tomatoes is really simple. Plum types are best, but any variety will dry, although really juicy ones take longer because they have such a high water content.

Here’s how to do it: Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the cores, if you’re using big ones. Spread them on a cookie sheet with the cut side up, and set them out in the sun with a screen or a mesh food umbrella on top to keep the bugs off. That’s it. They won’t dry in a single day, so bring them in at night to keep the dew from setting back the process. Some people suggest setting them on a rack so that air can circulate, but I’ve found it doesn’t matter much. Another crazy-sounding idea that I haven’t tried but I’ve heard works is to set the cookie sheets in your car on a hot, sunny day — your car essentially being a dehydrator on wheels.

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You can also speed things up by putting the tomatoes in the oven at a very low setting, preferably no hotter than 140 degrees. If the lowest setting on your oven is 200, keep the door open a crack. When the tomatoes are the texture of a raisin, they’re done.

I store mine in small, sealed jars in the back of the fridge, which has the added advantage of cutting down on space where “science projects” tend to accumulate. They’re good for up to a year. Some methods suggest packing them in olive oil, although that introduces the risk of botulism. To be safe, if you want them in oil, just add it a few hours before you use them.

Dried tomatoes can be used as they are, or reconstituted in a little warm water. Their burst of flavor jazzes up all kinds of dishes. I love them in scrambled eggs or frittatas, or nestled in scalloped potatoes. One of our quick favorites is to add a handful of dried cherry tomatoes to Swiss chard wilted in olive oil with a little sautéed garlic — it’s a really tasty topping for pasta and takes about four minutes to make. Or you can cut a pocket in a chicken breast and stuff it with a few dried tomatoes, a little prosciutto, and some Fontina cheese. Brush with a little olive oil, bake for about half an hour in a 350-degree oven, and eat!

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