You can’t argue against fresh, ripe tomatoes: their cooling juice, their sloppy glory. But when you really love tomatoes, you want to give them every chance to show off their charms. Yesterday, I wrote about what happens when you slowly, gently, lovingly cook the living hell out of them, turning them into a tomato paste bomb. The flavor is unbelievable, and, handily, it’s a great way to preserve them well into the winter.
And this is my other favorite way to do that: Dry them.
Now, if you lived through the 80’s, maybe you were scarred by Red Dawn: The Sundried Tomato Invasion. The only things more menacing than Soviet Russia were those chewy, insipid sour bits that showed up in everything.
But, like with tomato paste, making the stuff at home with real summer tomatoes gives you a totally different product altogether. You force all the tartness, sugar, aroma and depth of the tomato into rings maybe a fifth of their normal size, turning decent tomatoes great and good tomatoes insane. It takes hardly any effort, and their tooth-stickiness turns into real pleasure, releasing more flavor with every chew. Chop them up and put them in, on, or around pretty much anything.
Makes about 1 cup of dried tomato slices
2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes (any variety)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more to store, if desired
2 pinches salt
Preheat and slice: Preheat oven to 200⁰ F, or thereabouts. Cut tomatoes into ¼” slices and lay them on a tray or two without any overlap. (A silicone mat, parchment, or nonstick baking sheet work nicely, but aren’t necessary.) Very lightly salt them and dab a finger in the oil and lightly rub it onto the tomatoes, just enough to moisten them. Ew, that sounded grody.
Let the oven do its thing: Put the tomatoes in the oven for about 2½ hours. Halfway or so into it, rotate the trays. Or forget to do it; it’ll probably be fine. They’re ready when they’re like fruit leather: dried, chewy, no visible juice but still a little pliable. If 2½ hours doesn’t do it, keep checking on them every 15 minutes. If you want to speed it up, you can flip the tomato slices at some point.
Store: When they’re done, take them out and let the tomatoes cool on the tray. Store them in an airtight container. Chop and scatter them on anything your heart desires. It’s probably not necessary to keep them in the fridge, but I do, just in case there’s still some residual moisture left in them. You can cover them in olive oil, if you’d like, which will flavor the oil. They keep for months.