This time of year the hum of the dehydrator is an almost constant in our house. The soothing white noise gives me a feeling of contentment, knowing that my garden goodies are being preserved (it seriously makes me sad to waste any of my hard-earned fruits and vegetables!) At the moment, my dehydrating project is tomatoes. When it comes to preserving tomatoes, I know we usually think of canning or freezing (I will be doing some of that, too), but dehydrated tomatoes are a handy ingredient to have in the pantry, and so easy to make.
Let’s talk for a minute about just how easy this is. I like to dehydrate my tomatoes in the simplest possible manner – slice, place on the dehydrator trays, and let ‘em go until they are totally dry. Done! No blanching, peeling, or de-seeding. And here’s another benefit – I don’t have to stand in front of my stove and a canner of boiling water for a whole day during the hottest part of the summer. This is a hands-off project that frees me up to do other things, like take a nap in my hammock while reading a good book (ok, so that probably won’t happen, but a girl can dream).
I think it must seem a little
weird unusual that I would be dehydrating my juicy garden-fresh tomatoes because I’m commonly questioned as to what exactly I do with them. Invariably, my answer to this is “lots of stuff”. For starters, a dried tomato is as a great little snack. Crunchy and a little sweet, you can even add a sprinkle of sea salt or a few herbs. Dehydrated cherry tomatoes, in particular, make great snacks. When my potato chip cravings get the best of me, a few dried tomatoes with a sprinkle of sea salt can sometimes do the trick.
Dried tomatoes are also perfect for tossing into soups, stews, and chilis because the hot liquid will fully rehydrate them. If you want to use the tomatoes in something like scrambled eggs, or in any other way where you need them to be soft before adding to your dish, just soak for a few minutes in hot water until they are the desired softness.
One of my absolute favorite way to use these dried tomatoes is in tomato powder. Yes, sounds strange but tomato powder is extremely useful. Just grind up the fully-dried tomatoes in a blender or spice grinder and you have tomato powder. Talk about flavor! This tomato powder is just packed with savory umami flavor. You’ll feel so clever when you add a little powder to baked goods (“sundried” tomato tortillas=super tasty) or mix a few spoonfuls with some salt, Italian spices, garlic powder, and a little warm water for an amazing instant pizza sauce. You can throw a few spoonfuls into soups or sauces to add flavor and a little thickness. Or just rehydrate with a little hot water to make your desired amount of tomato paste or tomato sauce.
So if you’re looking for a really quick and easy way to preserve some of your tomato harvest, just follow these easy guidelines to make your own dehydrated tomatoes and tomato powder:
First is the equipment. You’ll need to use a food dehydrator to get this kind of shelf-stable dehydrated tomatoes. Using an oven won’t dry the tomatoes out enough to store outside of the refrigerator or freezer. An inexpensive dehydrator will work just fine for this, as long as it has a fan to circulate the air.
Next, you need to wash and slice your tomatoes. I find removing the skin and seeds is an unnecessary extra step, so I don’t do it (but you can do this if you feel the need to). You will want to slice your tomatoes about 1/4″ -1/2″ thick, or cut them in half for cherry tomatoes. You can use any kind of tomato, just be aware that certain tomatoes, like juicy heirloom slicers, will take longer to dehydrate than Romas and other meaty paste-type tomatoes.
Lay your tomato slices on your dehydrator trays in a single layer. Place halved cherry tomatoes with the cut sides up. Set your dehydrator for 145°F, or whatever setting the manufacturer of your particular dehydrator recommends for tomatoes. Check the trays periodically, and rotate them every few hours to ensure even drying. Allow the tomatoes to dry until they are brittle and can be easily removed from the trays (they will often stick to the trays until they are dry). The tomatoes should be brittle enough to snap when they are completely dry. I’ve had tomatoes take anywhere from 8 to 16 hours to become fully dehydrated.
Condition the dried tomatoes by placing them into a mason jar, or another air-tight container for 24 hours. This allows any remaining moisture to distribute equally between the tomatoes. After 24 hours, if you find there is moisture condensing inside the jar, put them back in the dehydrator for a few more hours.
Store in a cool dark place. Discard if you see any signs of mold or spoilage. Dried tomatoes will last and be flavorful for months in a cool, dark pantry. You can preserve their quality for even longer by storing in the freezer. For tomato powder, you can grind it as needed, or grind it and store in an airtight container.