Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sun-dried Tomatoes

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day.

Let me start by saying there's no sun involved in my drying process. Today it was approximately 78 million degrees outside with 100 trillion percent humidity. You walked outside and felt like you were swimming. In fact, if I leave the dried tomatoes on the counter for too long instead of throwing them in an air-tight container, I feel like they begin to rehydrate from the water in the air. 

But just because we don't have dry air doesn't mean we don't have tomatoes. About this time of year, the little ones start coming out of my ears. They're fun for snacks and salads, but eventually, eventually, it gets hard to be excited about them. They drop to the ground, unloved, and decompose. Unless you have a brilliant idea like I did last year: cut the little boogers in half and dry them. 

Sun-dried tomatoes are super pricey. Drying them is super easy. This seemed like a win win. 

Last year it was Sweet 100's. This year it's these little yellow pear shaped ones. I get them from my garden and my CSA. The thing is, yellow tomatoes are fun and all, but they're not really my favorite. Apparently, I like a more acidic kick. Which is one of the great things about drying. It takes a mild tomato and concentrates all of its flavors. Even if you don't eat them to the point of mouth soreness like I do, they're delicious on pastas and in other recipes. They're a little piece of summer in the middle of winter. And although we're swimming through humidity right now, there's going to come a time when we can all use a little piece of summer in the middle of winter. 

After you've cut your tomatoes in halfsprinkle them fairly generously with salt (sprinkle them enough so that they're good to eat before drying--punchy, but not crazy salty). If you've gotten them too salty, they'll burn your mouth up when dehydrated. However, the salt is a really wonderful accentuator (of course that's a word; why do you ask?) for the tomatoes. It's especially nice if you like to snack on them.

Line the halved tomatoes on your dehydrator and set it for about 135 degrees. Yup, if your oven goes that low, you can do them in there too.

It's going to be several hours. Mine tend to take between 8 and 16 hours to dry, depending on how big the halves are. I always check after 8 hours, pull off the ones that are done, let them cool, and put them in a sealed bag with the air squished out. I repeat this every 4 hours or so until they're all done. You don't want them getting crispy dry and you don't want them juicy at all. They should be chewy throughout. If they're nearly done and it's bedtime, just turn your machine off and then turn it back on in the morning. 

I use a Nesco American Harvest Dehydrator that was a gift from my mother-in-law. It's awesome. If you're looking for something a little cheaper, they've got them on sale at Aldi through Tuesday (in these parts) for $19.99, but I don't know how good they are, (although I bet they're good enough for tomatoes and herbs).

To store them, put them in a tightly sealed Ziploc bag, with as much air as possible squeezed out. They'll keep like this for several weeks, but I always throw them in the freezer to store them for the long term. I know that sounds a little weird since I just went through the hassle of drying them. And I assure you that dried they will last for a while just sitting in a bag on your counter top (provided it's sealed with very little air). But the freezer just guarantees that they last longer. It extends their life and preserves the nutrients even longer. It protects them from bugs and other pests. And it acts as an extra safety just in case I didn't get quite enough of the moisture out. Why take a chance? They take an itty bitty amount of freezer space and that way I don't have to worry about them.

The Skinny on Sun-dried Tomatoes:

1. Rinse and dry your tomatoes.
2. Cut smallish tomatoes in half (larger ones you'll want to cut in small pieces).
3. Salt or sprinkle with any other herbs you wish.
4. Place on food dehydrator with none touching or overlapping.
5. Set dehydrator to 135 degrees and dry for 8-16 hours or until tomatoes are chewy throughout. Check tomatoes throughout drying and remove those that are done before the others.
6. Remove from dehydrator and let cool.
7. Place in Ziploc bag and seal tightly with as little air as possible left in the bag.
8. Store for several weeks on the shelf or right on through the winter in the freezer. (I like to double bag the freezer tomatoes.)
9. Eat on pastas or as snacks when the dreary cold days of winter leave you longer for sunnier times.


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