By Michael Nolan
I do a ton of Italian cooking, much of which calls for sun dried tomatoes in the recipe.
While you can substitute fresh or even canned tomatoes, the flavor and texture will not be the same and after all, when you are cooking, isn’t flavor what it’s all about?
Choosing a Tomato
The best tomatoes for sun drying are varieties that have fewer seeds and juice, such as the Roma.
The variety you choose is really up to you, just know ahead of time that sun drying isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if you are using large, juicy tomatoes. When you do choose your tomatoes, select several that are all the same basic size so they will dry in approximately the same amount of time.
Doing the Deed
The best old school method I have found is:
1. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
2. Sprinkle the open side liberally with sea salt (and other herbs, if you like).
3. Place them open side down on a flat, non-metal surface like a silicone baking sheet.
4. Cover the tomatoes with cheese cloth, but don’t allow it to touch the drying fruits.
5. Place your tomatoes outside in the direct sunlight for 4-14 days (depending on the weather), but be sure to bring them indoors at night.
To use a dehydrator, follow the same basic method, and place the sliced — and — salted tomatoes loosely on your dehydrator rack set on about 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The process is understandably much faster with a dehydrator, taking about eight hours, depending on the size and moisture content of your tomatoes.
You could also use your oven or toaster oven to dehydrate the tomatoes, but I don’t recommend it, mainly because I just can’t justify running my oven for 8-12 hours, especially in the heat of summer.
When your tomatoes are ready, they should be leathery and completely dry, but not crispy. They will have a flexible feel that will not snap or break when handled.
For the best storage, place your sun dried tomatoes in zipper bags and they will keep in your freezer indefinitely. My personal favorite method is to place them into glass jars and cover them with olive oil. This adds even more flavor to the tomatoes and also gives a fantastic boost to the oil!