(Sun)Dried Tomatoes

A special blog post because I am, at this precise moment, in a very special place. Italy! Bologna to be exact, and if there is something I have been eating every day (most likely every meal) is tomatoes. I even have a jar of stuffed pecorino version in my mini fridge in the hotel room.

Some say that the best tomatoes ever are italian. Well, no wonder, they use them in (almost) everything, I suppose they have developed and mastered the skill like no other. But somehow I beg to differ – any tomato can be delicious, when grown in your own backyard, treated with a little TLC – these kind tomatoes will beat the italian version, any day of the year.

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Late this last summer I felt overwhelmed with the amount of tomatoes we had growing in the backyard. This year, a special bush grew out of proportion, right next to the kumquat tree. I have only seen them before in the supermarket, and they are named Berry Tomatoes (slightly different than the cherry version). They are small, plump, sweet and have a heart shaped longitude about them.

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As usual, with any seasonal fruit and veg, I get fed up of eating the same thing, the same way, every day. Then after the season has passed, I start missing whatever I used to have in excess the previous months. So I decided to pick a whole bunch and make some dried tomatoes to keep during the winter.

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Typically, pomodori secchi, is common in the south of Italy, obviously because of weather conditions that are appropriate for the artisanal sun drying technique. Many types of tomatoes can be used, later to be stored in olive oil to preserve during long periods of time, without the tomatoes acquiring oxidation and subsequentely moldy taste.

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The ones I made, however, were in an oven. I don’t believe we have the right conditions to do them in the blazing sun, even thought southern Portugal is hot, health safety issues arise quickly, and I am not about to gift my friends and family with unsecured edible presents. You should always keep this in mind.

Ingredients:

  • Plenty of tomatoes chopped longitudinally in half (as many trays you can get in your oven at a time);
  • Dash of sea salt;
  • Dash of freshly ground pepper;
  • Dash of brown sugar;
  • Dried herbs (if you wish).

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Lay the halved tomatoes on a tray with parchment paper and season with the salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Bake for at least 3 hours (this will depend on the size of the tomatoes, moisture content, how many trays you make, the ability your oven has to circulate the heat and how many times you turn the tray around to even the dehydration – this part in particular also helps the excess moisture escape from the oven ever so often). Basically, if you feel that your tomatoes have reached your desired consistency, take them out, set to cool then store in olive oil.

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Keep in mind that, if you want to buy jars that have an airtight seal, you preserves will last longer. But don’t forget to sterilize the jars first here (I use the microwave method). After opening any jar, make sure to store it in the fridge (the olive oil will solidify, but it doesn’t go bad.

Another awesome thing about making this recipe is the fact your olive oil will taste like the sweet, chewy, savory pomodori, so pick a good extra virgin one that you can later use to dress a salad, dip bread or drizzle on a freshly baked pizza. 

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As you can see, a few droplets of moisture remain on the sheet. Also, some tomatoes have become so dry, and others are still a little plump. You have two options for this:

  1. Start picking out the tomatoes that have reached the desired consistency;
  2. Let them be, and have batches of rustically different tomatoes.

I have tried doing this with a lower temperature, 100ºC to be precise. I did not enjoy the amount of time it took, neither the accumulation of moisture. I ended up increasing the temperature to 110ºC, but not a very good result as with 120ºC. If you do however own a convection oven with special moisture extraction features, by all means, do it at 60ºC for a long time. The lower the temperature, the better flavor retention and preservation.

But if you have huge batches to dehydrate like I do, and little time (or simply are an impatient being), 120ºC works just right.

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