Oven-Dried Tomato Slices
Popping in today with simple summery trick for you.
Of the ten tomato seedlings I raised, only one survived into adulthood — a yellow pear that, like every other tomato planted in this garden over the years, woefully underperformed. Fortunately, the market doth provide. In this instance, it provideth too much, and where ripe tomatoes are concerned, time is of the essence.
Tomatoes with greens, in omelets, on pizza in slices or as homemade sauce, eaten in thick wedges with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. They’re all on heavy rotation, but I wanted to try a new technique: oven-drying. Great to make the most of a windfall of beautiful, ripe summer tomatoes, but also to improve the dull taste of those not quite ripe, or even those purchased out of season that travelled a long, flavor-sapping distance to the supermarket.
Tomatoes contain about 95% water by volume, ranking among the most hydrating produce. This is precisely the property we exploit here, slowly drawing out the water and intensifying the natural sweetness. Before the days of highly temperature-controlled ovens, heat from the summer sun dried tomatoes, whole or cut into halves, quarters or slices.
The technique of sun-drying still persists around the world; though, I find the oven — devoid of hungry critters + rain + wind and the sand, dust, pollen and other goodies it carries — does the trick just as well.
I prefer pure, unadulterated summer tomatoes, but you can sprinkle over a little salt, cracked black pepper, or lemon juice. Or, if you like, toss on a few sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary or oregano, or dried herbs or blends, such as Herbes de Provence or fresh basil-infused salt.
What’s in it for me?
Tomatoes impart vitamins A and C, plus the phytochemical pigment lycopene, to help improve cardiovascular function, combat harmful cell-damaging free radicals, and strengthen elasticity of skin tissues. Lycopene may also offer risk reduction for certain cancers, including prostate, rectal, colon, and stomach. Furthermore, heat increases absorption of lycopene, making it more “bioavailable” to the body, and some studies suggest that cooked tomatoes (including oven- or sun-dried) contain roughly 20% more bioavailable lycopene than raw tomatoes.
For only 22 calories, about 5 grams carbohydrate, and virtually 0 grams fat, 1 medium tomato provides 12% of your DV for vitamin K, nearly 8% that of potassium, roughly 5% of your fiber, folate, and vitamin B6, as well as 1 gram of protein. [Assuming you pack these tomato slices dry (not in oil), and get roughly 5 slices per tomato, each slice is less than 5 calories!]
Like mushrooms and seaweed, tomatoes are a natural plant-based source of free glutamate. Glutamate is the amino acid our taste buds recognize as the “fifth taste” umami, that, like salt, enhances the savory flavors of other foods — without actually having to add salt. And dried tomatoes have been shown to contain more than twice the amount of free glutamates than fresh. Tomatoes also play a role as a prebiotic, boosting the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in the gastrointestinal tract to improve digestive health and bolster the immune system.
Like any other heat-kissed veg or fruit, dried tomatoes take a bit of time, but the oven does most of the work and the effort is well worth it. Use the slices whole or cut into strips in salads, sandwiches, tucked under the skin of chicken to be roasted or grilled, inside a whole fish or a parchment fish packet, rolled inside thin fillets of beef or roasted planks of eggplant or squash, as part of an antipasti platter, in pasta or risotto. You could even finely mince as a topping to crostini with fresh ricotta or buffalo mozzarella, or puree them to add depth to vinaigrettes, pestos and other sauces. Incredibly versatile.
Don’t let good tomatoes go bad; extend their lives with the simple technique of oven-drying, and enjoy the taste of these undisputed grand dames of summer all year long!
Tell me… What’s your favorite way to enjoy a ripe summer tomato? Do you use dried tomatoes in your kitchen?
- 8 to 10 medium round or plum (Roma) tomatoes, any color, washed and dried
- Preheat the oven to 200º F, and line two baking trays with parchment paper. Set aside.
- With a sharp or serrated knife, core each tomato and then cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange slices in a single layer on the prepared baking tray; no need to leave much space between.
- Bake until the tomatoes have sunken, and appear shriveled and leathery with caramelized edges, between 4 and 6 hours, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back every 2 to 3 hours. Timing will depend on how meaty, juicy, and thick the slices are, as well as the temperature you're baking at -- check for doneness regularly.
- Remove the trays from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool 1 hour on the tray. Transfer the slices to cooling racks to finish cooling and drying.
- When completely cool and dry, pack the slices into zipper-top plastic bags. Keeps refrigerated up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer up to 2 months. (See HGN Notes for instructions to pack in oil, if desired.)
To pack in oil: Once completely cooled, remove the tomato slices from the drying racks and layer into a tightly sealing plastic or glass container. Pour over enough olive oil (no need for fancy extra virgin here) to submerge completely, and cover the container. Keeps refrigerated up to 1 month, or in the freezer up to 6 months. Add a sprig of fresh herbs or a whole clove of garlic, if you like.
+ Try halved cherry or grape tomatoes, placing cut-side down on the lined baking tray, and checking for doneness after 3 to 4 hours.
+ Scatter thin slices of garlic over the tops of the tomatoes before drying, or add your favorite fresh or dried herbs.
+ Bump up the flavor even more with a light sprinkle of salt and/or freshly cracked black pepper.
+ Feeling fruity? Zest some lemon or orange over top before drying.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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