Monday, September 8, 2008

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Here's a quick quiz: What time of year is ten times better than x-mas?

The answer is Tomato Season. I love it when the tomatoes start showing up at the community market. Sure, some arrive in late spring and early summer, but they just don't have the essential tomatoeyness of the fruit that hits the stands when the weather is just right. Something about the wet summer heat concentrates so much flavor in the good varieties. I eat tomatoes constantly from the time they show up until the cool weather sets in--which unfortunately seems to be right now.

I also like to try to capture that fantastic tomato flavor to carry over into my winter cooking. Last weekend my sister-out-law and her husband gifted us with a big load of a variety of tomatoes from their garden. I made a batch of sauce that ended up all going into a lasagna. Half of that was frozen for a later date. Some of the smaller ones were used in salads, on a pizza and even tossed into a batch of black fried rice.

This past weekend I shopped the market with a purpose in mind. I was going to prepare some tomatoes for winter with one of my favorite methods--oven drying. I started with a bag of what the vendor said were Spotted Romas. A quick Google hasn't turned up any information on that variety. To me they look like a cross between a Roma and a Red Zebra.

To dry the tomatoes I cut off the stem end and then sliced them lengthwise in such a way that the pulp cavities were most exposed. I then arrayed them on a jellyroll pan that I had lined with baking parchment. A drizzle of olive oil was hand-rubbed over the cut surfaces and a light sprinking of kosher salt followed. I finished by laying some stems of the thyme I grew this year over the tomatoes. The pan went into a 200°F oven for about nine hours. The come out not tough and leathery like the dried tomatoes you can buy in the store, but rather softer and more edible. After cooling I layered them with waxed paper in a zip-top bag, labeled and dated them (of course!) and placed them in the freezer.

This fall and winter these tomatoes will make appearances with pastas, on bruschettas or pizzas and perhaps even in grilled cheese sandwiches. The oven-drying concentrates their juices and increases their sweetness and flavor. It also lets me relive the zenith of the year.

0 Responses: