If you have read my previous post about ketchup, you know that I recently made a somewhat extravagant purchase of a 5kg crate of tomatoes. I have seen an immense return on my investment – it has brought me nothing but joy. Until I started making sun dried tomatoes, that is. They, too, have brought me joy in the end, however the journey there was interspersed with multiple strokes my own stupidity and a generous sprinkling of “D’oh!”.
I found the recipe for oven-dried ‘sun dried’ tomatoes in the second Leon cookbook, however I saw a similar recipe in Nigella Express, and on this lovely blog. Not that there is a recipe to speak of, essentially you are roasting tomatoes in a very low oven for a very long time. Just how very long depends on the size of your tomatoes – and the size of your brains apparently!
I found the intersection of all the recipes mentioned to be this: 500g of tomatoes should yield enough for a medium sized Kilner jar if roasted at 50°C for about 7 hours or overnight. Okay, simple enough. I have two Kilner jars, so about a kilo should do. You will need to halve your tomatoes horizontally and place them skin down on a roasting tray. I wanted to take a before and after photo, but the ‘before’ photo is amazing in its own right because it captures perfectly the geometrical, symmetrical beauty of tomatoes. Not quite as spectacular as the fractals of romanesco, but still good work nature!
Right then, season the tomatoes well with salt and pepper and give them a good splash of olive oil. I sprinkled mine with thyme, too. It is a good idea to add some kind of herby flavour to your tomatoes, and there is no need to worry the herbs would burn at such low temperature. Fresh oregano would also be a good option. And in they go!
This is where my massive epic started. I started roasting at 4 pm, resisting the urge to open the oven to have a little peek. This is crucial when operating at such low temperatures, you do not want the little warmth there is to go all out. However, around midnight there was still no sight of anything happening in the oven. I decided to leave it overnight, anticipating to be woken by a distinctive aroma that can only be described as ‘Italy’. Alas, no sign of Italy in the morning either, although the tomatoes were beginning to look a bit frayed around the edges. A bit frayed! At this point the penny finally dropped, in a moment of realisation when it suddenly all becomes clear and falls into place: knowing now where I went wrong combined with an overwhelming sense of shame at own stupidity, and the incapability to give up what I had embarked on. It took a second to turn the fan in the oven on and about 5 hours to yield my first batch of oven dried tomatoes, complete with the scent of Italy. Count with me, I think we will reach the astounding result of 30 hours! Here’s a picture of my first batch: yes these really are those lovely tomatoes from the first picture!
All the water from the tomatoes had evaporated, leaving behind the pure essence of tomato. You can tell that this has happened when you prod the tomatoes with your finger and nothing comes squirting out. My first batch were completely dried out non-squirters, which is completely desirable. However, having started out with a kilo of tomatoes, I only had enough to half fill my Kilner jar. So, having learnt a lesson from my previous failure, I decided to do a second batch. (picture below) I left the tomatoes roasting overnight, woke up to the scent of Italy (yes!!) and even though some of the tomatoes were still a little squidgy, I popped them into the jar to join their cousins. I added a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a thyme sprig or two and poured in enough olive oil to over all. And that really is it.
This post was not intended to dissuade anyone from making sun dried tomatoes. I figure that having the oven on very low would consume about as much energy as the fridge, right? Right? I very much hope so. What I did want to do was point out my mistakes so that you could avoid them. Firstly, you need to choose a smallish variety of tomatoes. You could very well use cherries, but they are more expensive and you would need a lot of them. Little plum tomatoes would probably be perfect. If you only have big tomatoes, cut them in multiple strips or wedges to reduce drying time. And do set your oven to fan-assisted, that way it WILL really only take about 7 hours and should save you hours of worrying. Lastly, might I say just how deliciously sweet my oven dried tomatoes taste? And don’t get me even started on their fragrance. Eat them as tapas on their own, or chop them up and toss with some spaghetti and parsley. But whatever you do, please let them take the lead in your meals as they are such a star.