Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Celebrate Sun Dried Tomatoes

October is Celebrate Sun Dried Tomato month. These little gems have a sweet and sometimes tart concentrated tomato flavor. They are easy to make at home and great to have around to add flavor to salads, sauces or cheese plates.

When drying tomatoes, it is best to use Roma tomatoes but any variety works. Romas tend to be meatier having more flesh with less seeds and juice. Cherry tomatoes are also a great choice as their already sweet flavor concentrates nicely.

Whatever type of tomato you use, make sure you wash it well before you start and discard any with blemishes. Slice them in half lengthwise and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Two optional choices are to sprinkle with a bit of sugar to enhance their sweetness or sprinkle them with dried herbs if you would like a flavored dried tomato. Just remember whatever you add to the tomatoes will be concentrated as it dries, so use a light hand. Place the seasoned sliced tomatoes, cut side up, on a clean drying screen. If your screen does not come with a top screen, you can cover the screen with cheese cloth to keep the bugs away from your treasures. Make sure the cheese cloth or top screen do not touch the tomatoes.

Place your screen in the sun. Depending on the size of your tomatoes and the temperature it can take several days to two weeks to dry your tomatoes. Make sure to bring inside evenings to keep the morning dew from negating any of your hard work.

Tomatoes can also be dried in the oven. I'm not very patient so oven drying is my preferred method. Prepare the tomatoes the same way as you would to dry in the sun, however place on a baking sheet instead of a screen. Make sure to place cut side up and leave a bit of room between each tomato. Place in a preheated 250F oven for 2 to 6 hours (depending on their thickness). Adding some parchment paper to the baking sheet (or a Silpat pad) will help with clean-up.

Whichever your drying method, you want the tomatoes to be dry with the edges shriveled . The tomato will shrink to about three-quarters to half of its size.

The tomatoes can be stored in an airtight container for a few days in the refrigerator or a few weeks in the freezer. They can also be covered with oil (flavored or not) and stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Your dried tomatoes can be used:

In a Mediterranean style salad with greens, artichokes, cucumbers, feta and red onion, drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Tossed with pasta and olive oil (or the oil the tomatoes were stored in), fresh garlic, salt, pepper and chopped fresh basil, oregano or marjoram.

Or made into pesto by combining in the food processor with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, a splash of balsamic vinegar. Drizzle in some olive oil, toss with pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese.

The pesto can also be spread on lightly toasted bagette slices for a delicious bruschetta. Mix a bit of goat cheese as well for a real sublime treat.

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