Preserve a glut of sweet tomatoes and turn them into a vibrant jar of sun-dried tomatoes. Food writer, Malou Herkes, takes you through how to make sun-dried tomatoes come rain or shine.
I’ll admit, sun-drying tomatoes might be a bit of a stretch at this time of year. You’ll need at least two consecutive days of hot sunshine to be able to dry them out properly. But don’t worry, because you can achieve exactly the same results in an oven. The theory is the same whether sun-drying or oven-drying. Removing their moisture stops them from going mouldy and is a wonderful way to preserve their sweet-acidic summer flavour.
Use them in any recipe that you’d associate with fresh tomatoes, but use them more sparingly. Chop and sprinkle dried tomatoes onto pizza, stir them through pasta or chop them into tomato sauces, toss them into salads (especially panzanella) or tear a few into a sandwich. If all you have is a slice of freezer bread, toast it and top with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a drizzle of the oil they’re preserved in. Eat immediately. A jar of these seasonal gummy bears will make a meal from a few basic ingredients in minutes.
Sun-dried versus oven-dried tomatoes
You can do either and the results will be pretty much be the same. If sun-drying, you’ll need to be blessed with at least two consecutive days of hot sunshine. Too much moisture in the air and your tomatoes can go mouldy. Make sure you keep a close eye on the weather and move your tomatoes inside if a sudden downpour threatens.
The pros of oven-drying your tomatoes are you don’t need any outdoor space to do it and the process will be much quicker (seven hours in a low oven as opposed to several days in the sun). The only downside is you’ll use extra energy and end up with a slightly more expensive electricity bill. You can also decide to semi-dry your tomatoes, so they’re plumper and less chewy. If that’s the case, leave them in the oven for about three hours only – taste as you go, and decide for yourself what you prefer.
Does it matter what type of tomatoes I use?
You can really dry any tomato. That said, plum tomatoes tend to work best because they contain less moisture than, say, your regular beef or vine tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are also sweeter and more robust in flavour. Halve them lengthways and scoop out their seeds. If using beef or vine tomatoes, for example, remove their seeds and slice into segments (rather than simply halving them) and they’ll dry better. Cherry tomatoes work wonderfully too, and there’s no need to deseed them.
Should I keep sun-dried tomatoes in oil?
You don’t have to keep them in oil. They can be dried and stored just as they are in a container in the fridge. Packing them into a jar with olive oil is a nice way to add extra flavourings, such as herbs, garlic or chilli. It also means you have lovely infused oil to add to your cooking as you go. Avoid using strong-flavoured olive oil, though, as it can be overpowering.
How to make sun-dried tomatoes in 4 steps
Cut plum tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Slice beef or vine tomatoes into segments and remove the seeds. Halve cherry tomatoes but don’t deseed.
Arrange cut-side up on greaseproof-lined baking trays, then sprinkle with salt.
Place in the oven at 100ºC. Leave the tomatoes to dry out for around 7 hours.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then place in sterilised jars. Cover with quality olive oil, seal and store in a cool dark place. Once opened, keep in the fridge.
Read on here for more ways to use a glut of tomatoes, plus hints and tips for storing.
Love making your own pantry staples? Why not try Malou’s DIY guides to preserving lemons, making your own blackcurrant cordial, yoghurt, mayo or even butter. Try your hand at your fermenting, from making apple cider vinegar to kombucha to water kefir. Or add instant flavour to your cooking with these DIY flavoured salts. The possibilities are endless!