I am an unabashed tomato enthusiast. I grow them like mad, make ketchup, can ’em whole, and rock out on tomato jam. Beefsteak, Green Zebra, or Sungold, I’ve yet to meet a tomato I haven’t liked.
This year, I pooled together two of my most favorite vegetable pastimes: oven drying and Early Girl tomatoes. The combination creates an insanely easy (though slow) confection/ingredient as addictive as homemade potato chips.
I love using my oven as a dehydrator for fruit, vegetables, fruit roll ups, and, of course, beef jerky. But the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes intensifies into a tangy, candy-like flavor grenade when its moisture has been removed. And unlike canned tomatoes which really need to be cooked to be enjoyed, dried tomatoes can be eaten as-is long after the fresh supply runs out.
Convinced? This is how easy it is:
- Buy at least 10 lbs. of Early Girl (or other) tomatoes. You’ll want a vast quantity: at least enough to cover two large rimmed baking sheets, as dried tomatoes really reduce. Also, while San Manzano’s or Roma’s are kings for canning, the sweetness of Early Girls and their smallish size make them the best for drying. Ask your local farmers market vendor if you can buy them by the case for a better price.
- Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- De-stem and wash the tomatoes. I just pull off the outer green stem, but I don’t get in there and dig out the stem like I do for strawberries.
- Cut the tomatoes across the horizontal access. They dry a little prettier this way and it exposes the most amount of surface area for better drying.
- Arrange them on the sheets cut side up. It’s ok if they’re very close together, but make sure they’re in a single layer.
- Dry the trays on two oven racks placed in the lowest part of the oven. Turn the oven on to 200 degrees. Stick a wooden spoon in the door to help moisture escape and let them dry for about 8-10 hours, switching the positions of the trays if you remember to do so halfway through. If you have to leave the house or go to bed during the drying, simply turn the oven off and keep it closed, then start drying again later. Let them dry until the smallest tomatoes are fairly firm, but the larger tomatoes are still soft and tender. Eat some. They’re crazy good.
- Dip the dried tomatoes in a bowl of distilled white vinegar. Why? Because Sean Timberlake told me to. It’s also a good idea to help kill any exterior bacteria, and the acidity adds a lot to its flavor, too.
- Drop the tomatoes into an odor-free jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour olive oil over to cover and store them in the refrigerator for months.
- Devour them standing at the refrigerator door, but also in sandwiches, egg dishes, tossed into pasta, stirred into polenta or cornbread, etc.