Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Best "Sun-dried" tomatoes in the world

These are really so good....
You can add them to almost about anything, top your breads with it... pizza... vegetable rolls... the possbilities are endless!!!

The reason sun-dried tomatoes are so expensive in the market is because there is a lot of shrinkage in the process. Supposedly it takes 20 pounds of tomatoes to make 1 pound of dried tomatoes.

The best tomato to use in this process is the Roma tomato (also known as a plum, pear, or Italian tomato), because it contains less water and seeds than other varieties. However I have used other kinds in the past as well.... So in this tomato season, whatever you can find cheapest is the best.

So here it goes:

Wash the tomatoes.

Cut them in 1/2" to 3/4" discs. I have even sliced them with my food processor with a 6mm slicing disc and that works great too. If you want, you can even quarter them lengthwise.

Arrange the tomatoes, with the cut surface up, on your dehydrating surface. Glass or porcelain dishes are OK. They will have to withstand temperatures of a few hundred degrees F if you are going to oven-dry the tomatoes. Do not use aluminum foil, or bare aluminum cookie sheets. The acid in the tomatoes will react with the metal.)

Sprinkle the tomatoes with:
dried basil
dried oregano
dried thyme
(you can use any of these herbs fresh if you have an aboundance of these growing in your garden. I used the oregano and thyme fresh chopped up.)

Dry the tomatoes in the oven, dehydrator. However, no matter what method you choose, be aware that not all of the tomatoes will dry at the same rate. They do not all have the same amount of moisture, nor do they experience the same temperature and air circulation while they are drying.

They are done when they are very dry, but still pliable - about the texture of a dried apricot. If dried too long, they become tough and leathery. If not dried long enough, they will mold, unless packed in oil.
So watch them carefully while they dry. Try to remove them on an individual basis, before they become tough. If you are going to pack them in oil, like I do, then I don't bother too much with trying to take them out at the right time and usually turn the dehydrator off when they are all done. They get softened in the oil and vinegar.

A word about dehydrating: It's best to dehydrate foods at no higher than 105F, as the enzymes get destroyed above that temp. But your tomatoes will get done faster if you use higher temperature. So, it's upto you.

Drying method:

Bake, or dehydrate directly onto the dehydrator trays, cut side up, oven for about 4-5 hours. Leave the oven door propped open about 3 inches to allow moisture to escape. After 4-5 hours, turn the tomatoes over and press flat with your hand or a spatula.
Continue to dry, turning the tomatoes every few hours, and gently pressing flatter and flatter, until tomatoes are dry.

After the tomatoes are dry, store in air-tight containers, or pack in oil (that is what I do.)

To pack in oil:
Dip each tomato into a small dish of apple-cider vinegar. Shake off the
excess vinegar and start stacking them up in your jar. Keep pressing the tomatoes down and add more and more until they are packed tightly. Now add some extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil to the jar. Make sure the tomatoes are completely
immersed in the oil.
Cap the jar tightly and store at cool room temperature
for at least a month before using (if you can wait that long.) When you open a new jar to start using them, you can keep that one in the fridge

Do *NOT* add fresh garlic cloves to oil-packed dried tomatoes, UNLESS you store them in the refrigerator.

Ths is how much I got from drying 28lbs of fresh tomatoes!

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