(Not Sun-) Dried Tomatoes

Last night, as I was finalizing bedtime with kiddos, Aaron went out into the moonlit garden (it was a waxing gibbous moon, he told me) to pick two buckets of Roma tomatoes, a total of about four gallons. He had decided to make dried tomatoes. He loves sundried tomatoes; I don’t particularly, so he took the job on. These won’t be sundried tomatoes. These are simple dehydrated tomatoes. I’m not sure the difference will be substantial, however. They came out smelling absolutely delicious, with a beautiful deep red color. I’m really happy with them. Here’s what we did:

Step One: Lay fairly thick slices — about a quarter of an inch thick — onto dehydrator trays (metal cooling racks on a baking sheet are a perfectly viable option, too). Aaron sliced about three gallons of whole tomatoes and filled eight round trays.

Lay 1/4 inch slices on the dehydrator trays.
Lay 1/4 inch slices on the dehydrator trays.

Step Two: Let the dehydrator work for about ten to twelve hours at 140-160 degrees. If you don’t have a dehydrator, use an oven at the same temperature setting if possible, or 200 if that’s as low as yours will go — but use extra caution if that’s the case to be sure they don’t dry too fast and scorch. You may find a few of the thinner tomatoes are thoroughly dried after only eight hours. You’ll know they’re dry when they’re nicely crisp with a rustly sound when you touch them. Some of the thicker ones may feel ever so slightly supple when dry, but there should be no hint of stickiness or moisture. Thicker ones or end pieces will take longer to dry (a few of ours took up to sixteen hours).  Keep checking back about every hour. In an oven, check more frequently. Unless you have a convection oven or some other method of keeping air moving constantly, there’s a good chance the tomatoes won’t dry evenly, so you’ll need to turn the pan periodically and trade top and bottom pans if you’re doing more than one pan.

Beautiful dried tomatoes.
Beautiful dried tomatoes.

Step Three: Soak a few in herb-infused olive oil. It’s not recommended to store food long-term in oil (the oil can actually protect tiny pockets of liquid in which botulism, a potentially fatal bacterium, can grow — not good!), but this is a delicious way to prepare the dried tomatoes to eat. I layered the dried tomatoes with fresh rosemary and thyme in a jelly jar, packed fairly tightly.

Then I poured olive oil into the jar up to the top, and put the lid on tightly. Note: one small jar. I repeat, this isn’t a long-term storage solution. This is a way of making the texture softer and more chewable, and of adding flavor to the tomatoes in preparation for eating them or cooking with them. Store them for up to four days in the fridge if you’ve used fresh herbs, as I did, or if you’ve added garlic into the jar. The olive oil will solidify at the cooler temperature, but if you let it sit at room temperature before you need the tomatoes it should become liquid again pretty quickly.

If you use dried herbs, you should be safe letting the tomato-and-herb mixture in oil sit on a shelf for a few days, or storing it in the fridge for a bit longer than with fresh herbs. (Should I repeat the no long-term storage in oil thing, again?) One exception to the only a few days thing: If you’re really attached to your beautiful tomato-and-oil mixture (it really is pretty), and you can’t use it all up in a short time, dump it into a bag and freeze it! Problem solved.

Step Four: Seal the rest of the dried tomatoes in double-bagged zipper bags or vacuum packs, in small quantities so you don’t waste them once opened. Be sure to label them with the contents and date. If they’re well-sealed, you should be able to store them for up to a year. I plan to repeat step three above each time I open a bag of the dried tomatoes.

Step Five: Enjoy! Chop and add to a savory bread dough, spread across a pizza, toss with creamy pasta, add to a salad… The list goes on and on.

Here are some good resources for vegetable drying, oil and vinegar infusing, and vegetables in oil; and safe storage of all of the above. These articles are where I got a lot of my details about how long it’s safe to store the dried tomatoes in oil versus bagged. Yes, I really read them all. Haven’t I mentioned I’m a compulsive reader?

  • An article from The National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia, gives several methods of preserving methods, including canning, drying, pickling, and freezing. The author, Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., emphatically reminds you not to preserve dried tomatoes in oil. Because BOTULISM. Okay?
  • Oregon State University’s Extension Service has an article called “Food Safety & Preservation: Herbs and Vegetables in Oil,” which gives safe times for storing infused oils and vegetables in oil (hint: the times are short).
  • Authors P. Kendall and J. Rausch, from Colorado State University, also give information about flavored oils and vinegars in an article called “Flavored Vinegars and Oils.”
  • Another University of Georgia resource is “Drying Vegetables,” from the Food and Nutrition series, by P. Kendall, P. DiPersio and J. Sofos. This one has a lot of details on different methods and includes facts on food-safe materials for drying racks..