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Dehydrating Tomatoes at Home

Preparation
Oven Drying
Dehydrator Drying
Microwave Drying
Packaging and Storage
Rehydrating Dried Tomatoes
Tomato Flakes and Powder
What to Do With Dried Tomatoes
Making Essence of Dried Tomatoes

Dehydration is the process of slowly removing water from tomatoes in order to preserve them. Dried or dehydrated tomatoes have become a common staple for the ’90s. In the Mediterranean, tomatoes are dried in the sun. Unfortunately many other regions of the world do not offer the appropriate climate for sun-drying.

The amount of time it takes to dry tomatoes depends on the variety of the tomato, the humidity in the air during the drying process, the thickness of the slices or pieces, and the efficiency of your dehydrator or oven.

Firm, ripe, meaty tomatoes dry best. This type of tomato is usually oval shaped and called an Italian, Roma, plum, pear or paste tomato. These tomatoes contain fewer seeds and more pulp, and produce a better dried tomato. Varieties that contain a lot of water or gel, such as Beefsteaks, are not recommended.

The secret to successfully dehydrating tomatoes is to control the temperature and air circulation. If they are dried at too low a temperature, 90F or less, the tomatoes will dry too slowly and bacteria or mold can grow. At too high a temperature, 170F or higher, the tomatoes will cook, or harden on the outside (case harden), while the insides remain moist, and spoilage will also occur.

Properly dried tomatoes have a dark red color and feel dry and leathery, but not hard and brittle. They should not be "tacky" or moist. When touched in the center, no tomato pulp should stick to the finger.

Preparation

Select firm ripe tomatoes for drying. Tomatoes do not require blanching. Cut plum tomatoes almost in half lengthwise and open like a book. Using a spoon or your finger, scrape out the seeds, or gently squeeze the tomato to extract them, but be careful not to remove the pulp. If the seeds don’t bother you, omit this step. Salt may be lightly sprinkled on the cut surface to draw moisture, but is optional. If drying plump or thick plum tomatoes, a slit on the bottom or skin side will aid in the drying process. Slice "round" or "salad" tomato varieties in -inch thick slices.

Oven Drying

Unlike sun drying, which depends on the weather, oven drying can be done at any time of the day or night, rain or shine. For trays you can use the existing racks in the oven, or cake racks. Cover the racks with cheesecloth held firmly in place with clothespins or straight pins.

Place the tomatoes about 1/2 to 1" apart (cut side up) in an oven heated to no hotter than 140F. The oven door should be propped open at least 4 inches. Place a small fan outside the oven in such a position that air is directed through the opening and across the oven racks. Rotate the racks, and change the position of the fan frequently during drying to vary the air circulation and promote even drying.

Near the end of the drying time, the tomatoes may scorch easily, so examine them occasionally and remove dried tomatoes. Oven drying is practical if you are drying small quantities or experimenting with drying.

Dehydrator Drying

There is an initial expense involved when buying a dehydrator, but many people think that a dehydrator produces the best quality dried food. An electric dehydrator can maintain a low, even temperature, and circulate the heated air by means of a blower or fan. Most dehydrators are equipped with a thermostat to maintain a constant temperature, and some have timers. Larger units with many shelves have room for more food than most ovens.

Set the dehydrator temperature at 135 to 140F. If your dehydrator does not have a thermostat, place an accurate, easily read thermometer on the bottom tray. Place the prepared tomatoes on trays as described in the above, leaving 1 to 2 inches between trays. It may be necessary to turn the tomatoes, and rotate the racks during drying.

Near the end of the drying time, the tomatoes may scorch easily, so examine them occasionally and remove dried tomatoes.

Microwave Drying

Do not attempt to use your microwave to dry tomatoes. They require constant attention, and the door must be opened frequently to allow moisture to escape. Microwave dried tomatoes do not dry evenly, and can easily scorch or burn.

Packaging and Storage

Dehydrated tomatoes require very little space to store. Completely dried tomatoes can be stored in plastic bags, airtight jars or other suitable containers. If coffee cans are used, place the tomatoes in plastic bags first. Pack the tomatoes tightly, and squeeze out all excess air. They may be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place. The color, flavor, aroma, and nutritive value will deteriorate after about a year. For longer storage, well-wrapped tomatoes may be stored in the freezer.

Rehydrating Dried Tomatoes

Dried tomatoes may be rehydrated in a variety of ways. Tomatoes may be added directly to soups and stews, or may be soaked in water, wine, bouillon or vegetable juice to cover. They usually rehydrate within 1 to 2 hours. If they are soaked for more than 2 hours, or overnight, they should be refrigerated. Using boiling liquid speeds up the soaking time. The soaking liquid may be used in cooking.

Tomato Flakes and Powders

To crumble dried tomatoes, toss them into the freezer for 5 minutes. Then crush.

To produce flakes or powder from your dried tomatoes, dry them beyond the "leathery" stage to a more brittle consistency. Tomato flakes can be made by crushing the dehydrated tomatoes with a mallet, rolling pin or by crushing them in your hands.

Powders are finer than flakes and are made in a food processor or blender.

What to Do With Dried Tomatoes

Dehydrated tomatoes can be used "as-is" or rehydrated. They may be used whole (halves), or minced into bits, sliced into slivers, chopped into chunks, or pureed into pulp.

Rosy salad dressing

Puree tomato halves with fresh garlic, dry mustard and freshly ground pepper. Mix with mayonnaise and thin with milk. Drizzle over crisp greens.

Tomato potatoes

For scalloped potatoes with a difference, arrange tomato halves between layers of sliced potatoes before baking.

Pasta pizzazz:

Add a handful of tomato halves, some chopped anchovies, minced garlic and parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil to hot cooked pasta. Toss well and serve.

Add dried tomato bits and pieces to:

quiche
stir-fry
meatloaf
casseroles
stews
rice or risotto
scrambled eggs or omelets
quick or yeast breads

Essence of Dried Tomatoes

1 cup dried tomatoes, moderately packed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh basil, coarsely chopped, (or 1-1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

1. Place tomatoes, garlic, capers and basil in bowl of food processor. Process just until mixture is chopped, NOT pureed. Add oil and vinegar and pulse food processor just until mixture is combined.

2. Place in covered jar and store in refrigerator.

Some suggestions for using dried tomato essence

Sandwich spread
Mock pizza, with English muffins and cheese.
Tomato-based pasta sauce
Dips and salad dressings
Stuffing for deviled eggs
With pesto—toss with pasta
Spread on cream cheese and crackers
Add to tuna, chicken, potato, pasta or veggie salads


Information about drying tomatoes provided by the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County. Pointers on what to do with dried tomatoes courtesy of Pam Young, Master Food Preserver.


Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef