By Robin Haglund
When prepared properly, dehydrated tomatoes will keep for a very long time. They require very little in the way of safety processing, and it only takes a little room to store a lot of them. Plus, there’s nothing like enjoying one of your homegrown tomatoes in the middle of winter!
Although just about any variety of tomato will dehydrate, paste tomatoes work best. Slicers tend to be filled with seeds and juice, which is extracted before drying, leaving little “meat” to dehydrate. And cherries are usually so small, they dry out into hard-to-reconstitute little husks. Paste tomatoes, on the other hand, generally contain little or no seed material. And, their flesh is usually very thick. This makes for a great dried tomato. Varieties like ‘Saucy Paste’, ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘San Marzano’ are some favorites, but select what you grow based on varieties known to perform best in your area. If you aren’t harvesting from your own garden, buy enough to make dehydrating worthwhile. Figure about one pound of fresh tomatoes will yield about one ounce dried.
Most who dry tomatoes choose to use a dehydrator. These are available for purchase online or at any local shop that sells kitchen appliances, and they range in price from $40 on up. Some have built in timers. Some have specific heat settings. Others simply have an on/off switch. In hot, warm locales, you may have luck drying tomatoes in the sun or in a solar oven, but this method isn’t for most and may result in critters or rot getting your crop before it finishes drying.
Once you have your dehydrator in place and your tomato crop is rolling in, you’ll need to prepare your paste tomatoes for dehydrating. To do this, wash your tomatoes. Inspect for any imperfections and cut those out. Slice your tomatoes lengthwise in half. Remove stems, seeds and any core.
At this point, you may choose to fill your dehydrator trays with the prepared tomatoes, flip it on and start the drying process. Or, you can toss the tomatoes with a few herbs, salt, a dash of sugar and a spoonful of olive oil first. By adding a bit of herbs, spices and oil, the tomatoes will have a bit of added flavor when you reconstitute them later. Try a making a seasoned batch and a plain batch to determine which works best for you.
Once your dehydrator is filled with tomatoes and running, you’ll probably have about 6-12 hours to wait until the tomatoes are dried sufficiently to store. How juicy the tomatoes are and what your dehydrator setting options are will determine how long it takes to finish drying your fruit. If possible, try running your first batch starting in the morning on a day when you will be home to check it periodically. Hopefully, the process will finish before you go to bed. (Be warned before buying a dehydrator: sometimes these machines can be loud!) Still, if the fruits need longer to finish drying, keep the process going until the tomatoes are dry and leathery. Check each tray regularly; sometimes dehydrators dry fruit inconsistently, and you’ll need to remove some pieces sooner than others.
Once your tomatoes are completely dry, they may be stored in a re-sealable bag, a vacuum seal bag or container or just in a pantry canister. But, be absolutely sure they’re all fully dry before they go into storage. One wet tomato can ruin your whole batch!
Need ideas of how to use your tomatoes come winter?
Reconstituting the tomatoes before cooking them is key. Add about 1/4 cup of dried tomatoes to a bowl. Pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Let them sit in the water about 30 minutes until they plump up. Drain (or use the water as suggested below). And try them in any of the following ways:
- Arrange on a pizza with capers
- Pop into a stew or braising dish for added richness
- Chop finely with roasted garlic and olive oil to serve on toasted baguette
- Add the reconstitution water and the tomatoes to a blender. Add fresh basil. Blend until thick. Stir in a bit of olive oil. Spread on pizza for a sauce layer.
It doesn’t take many dried tomatoes to infuse a dish with delicious tomato flavor. A little really does go a long way.