If you think I am in a bit of a panic over the eminent disappearance of vine-ripened ANYthing, you are correct, sir! But after years of veg-therapy, I have a few coping techniques to preserve the last taste of summer and keep me from jonesing til the sun sits high in the sky again. Of course, canning is always an option; but that is a real commitment, and I personally like the pop of flavor that oven-dried tomatoes deliver. I’m not a big fan of freezing either. (They say the freezer is the last stop before the trash, so it’s not an ideal way in which to honor a loved one.) Some produce, like tomatoes, have too much water in them for quality freezing results. Once frozen, the water in tomatoes expands and destroys the structure. Unless you are aiming for a puree or sauce, OR adding to a soup or stew, that kind of behavior is considered, in many circles, a criminal offense.
Oven-dried tomatoes, while ultimately stored in the freezer, have already dehydrated sufficient water to make them super freezer-worthy. Because they don’t freeze as a solid block, it’s easy to grab a few and toss into a salad, a pasta, a frittata, or pop into a Panini or quesadilla. I also like the texture – not as leathery as commercially-produced sundried tomatoes, and they are not immersed in low-quality oil. These tomatoes will be super-charged with flavor and soft with a bit of chewiness – luscious!
Thanks to the surge in varieties of heirloom tomatoes, there are many options for choosing colors and shapes and sizes and flavors. I usually try to buy an assortment of colors and shapes, but keep the sizes about the same. If I am working with some larger tomatoes, I will keep them in a separate section since their cooking time will be longer. Choose from ripe yet firm cherry, pear, and grape – black pearl, green envy, Italian ice, and zebra. There is a virtual rainbow of possibilities. And while it takes a lot to fill even a quart Ziploc, a little bit from that Zip will go a very long way.
Plan to do this when you are home for the afternoon, cleaning out the closet or putting your herbs to bed for the winter (more on that next time). While this is a very fast prep and low ongoing involvement process, it is impossible to guess how long the whole shebang will take. If you have a convection oven, you can speed up the process a bit. And if you have a dehydrator, your watchful eye is less necessary. I usually figure 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours if I have an oven-full.
Preheat the oven to 225°F.
I like to line my sheet pans with foil to prevent pan-pitting as the tomato acid is released. (And let’s be real, it makes clean-up a snap). Halve the tomatoes and arrange in rows by variety/size on the pan, cut side up.
Sprinkle the tomatoes with a coarse sea or kosher salt.
My oven is wide enough for a full sheet pan and I can put in three at a time. However the air flow is significantly reduced, and so I have to keep an eye and rotate the pans, top to bottom and front to back. The better the airflow, the faster they will dehydrate.
Nothing will happen for an hour or hour and a half. But keep an eye on them after that – every 20 minutes or so. If you have used a wide variety of tomatoes, they will likely finish at slightly different rates.
Once they dry to your desired doneness, remove and cool completely, before bagging in a Ziploc. Press out excess air and keep in the very front of your freezer for easy access.
Don’t forget about that salt when you go to use them later – you may not need additional salt in your recipe.
There are no proportions or timing here. But, if you insist: 6 quarts of cherry tomatoes, will fill 3 full sheet pans when halved and need about 3 hours in a 225°F oven, resulting in about 1 quart of You’ll Thank Me in the Winter Oven-Dried Tomatoes for your freezer.