I’ve been going tomato crazy this year, boring the hell out of everyone at work with almost daily updates on how my batch of home grown ones are doing. My modest 4 plants are in the conservatory and have been providing me with a reasonable, if not plentiful harvest. My recent idea to fill pretty much all of the floor space with plants next year was met with instant disapproval from Gosia; needless to say I agreed with her opinion (like any good husband), but will go ahead and do it anyway.
Sun drying is just one technique you can use to preserve tomatoes should you be lucky enough to have a glut of them this year. Even better, you don’t need the sun to do it – great for those of us living in England, where this summer is turning out to be yet another wash out.
The basic idea is simple. You take a load of tomatoes, chop them in half and place on a wire tray (as pictured), then sprinkle with salt (Maldon sea salt is great) and dried herbs of your choice. It’s then out into the sun or (more realistically in the UK), into the oven until dried. In my gas oven this meant 130 degrees c (266 degrees f – the lowest it would go – around 100 would be perfect) for about 8 hours, opening the door slightly for the last few hours to prevent them burning. Once dried you can store them in a sterilised jar filled with olive oil until needed; the oil will absorb some of the flavour over time making a great by-product. Incidentally I prefer them “semi-dried” – this gives all the benefits but still leaves them instantly munchable should you be unable to resist (but be aware they wont keep long like this).
This year I’ve done it with both my own home-grown tomatoes, and cheap supermarket varieties. I can now report back that the uneven sizes of my home grown ones were a big mistake (the smaller ones burnt before the bigger ones were done). The difference in taste between my own and the supermarket ones when fresh was immediately noticable; not so once they were dried. I can therefore happily recommend this as a way of transforming cheap tomatoes into a gourmet food, should you not have any of your own to hand.
I love them tossed into pasta, salads, and on a slice of crusty bread drizzled with olive oil. Why not give it a go?