Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes

I think if I had to pick a favorite vegetable/fruit it would be the tomato - hands down.  They are so versatile and I love the taste.  As I've gotten older I prefer fresh tomatoes to canned and even now eat my pizza with fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce or pizza sauce.  We love to grow them and they are always the first thing we plant and every year we plant more and more because we use them so much.  With the prices for tomatoes through the roof these days we planted several rows of plants this year.  I work full time so canning tomatoes is not something I want to rush home to do after work.  We have found a wonderful way to preserve them though and since all our friends love them I thought I'd post how we do them. 

First of all, you need a food hydrator.  You can purchase one or make one yourself.  My son uses the inside of his car since we live in sunny Florida and natural heat is in abundance.  My husband and I bought a great hydrator at a yard sale for $5 and have used it over and over.  But new ones aren't that expensive - maybe starting at $25....

My husband slices the tomatoes and places them in the hydrator.  We've experimented with different thicknesses to get various results after packed in the oil.  I don't really like them as chewy as store-bought sun-dried tomatoes but I also don't like them hard and crispy like they've come out in the past.  So experiment to find your ideal thickness.

After they are dried, you can place them in ziploc baggies and freeze for later.  You can also rehydrate them when you are ready to use them.  My favorite way is to pack them in olive oil with garlic and spices for topping on bagels, pizza, salads, or in pasta dishes. 

We love garlic so we use an abundance and really never think you can put too much.  Chop the amount of garlic you like.  Add about 1 cup extra virgin olive oil to a small cast iron skillet and add the garlic.  Heat until bubbly then turn off and allow the garlics flavor to seep into the oil.  Add about 1 to 2 cups dried tomatoes to a 1 quart canning jar and pour hot oil and garlic over the tomatoes.  Add basil, thyme, oregano, kosher salt & pepper.  I do not measure any of these so eyeball the amount you like.  I grow my own herbs and use them fresh in a lot of dishes but for this application I prefer dried because the flavor is a little more concentrated.  Clean the rim of the canning jar and cover with the lid.  I then turn the jar over and over several times to allow all the oil, garlic, and herbs to mix together.  If you want more oil, simply add more olive oil without heating and reseal. 

At this point you can leave them on your counter and use the tomatoes within a couple of weeks.  I've never timed how long they actually last this way but it seems like we use them up in a couple weeks and they are fine.  You can also put them in your refrigerator for how long???  Not sure.  You could also put them through a hot water canning bath to preserve them longer.  Since I'm no expert on this procedure I will leave you to research this on your own. 

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