Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Posted by Valerie Byles on 14th May 2020

Whilst most of us are only just getting our home-grown tomatoes going and nervously watching the weather forecast for signs of lower temperatures and late frosts, there are plenty of luscious, plump tomatoes available in greengrocers' stores right now. Tomatoes are so versatile that they are well worth stocking up on when you see a good bargain, as you can do all sorts of things to preserve them for future use.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to concentrate on sun-dried tomatoes and the things you can do with them. So if you fancy a little taste of the Mediterranean to cheer you through the current lockdown and remind you of holidays past, read on…

What exactly are sun-dried tomatoes?

We’ve all seen sun-dried tomatoes - often sold in Mason jars, with a delicious herby oil. But how are they made? As the name suggests, sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun to remove most of their water content. Typically, salt is added to sliced tomatoes before they are laid out in the summer sun to dry. This helps to retain the colour of the tomatoes and makes them look more appealing once dried.

The outdoor drying process can take up to two weeks in those Mediterranean countries. Here in the UK, if you want to make sun-dried tomatoes, you’re going to have to cheat and use either a dehydrator or your oven. In fact, many commercially-produced sun-dried tomatoes have also been prepared in an oven, so if you cheat, you’re in good company!

How to make your own sun-dried tomatoes in the oven

The first secret to perfect sun-dried tomatoes is to choose the right variety. Don’t go for giant beefsteak tomatoes because they look exotic or fancy. These tomatoes will take forever to dry out, as they contain so much water. Also, cherry tomatoes will not produce anything particularly useable, so ignore these too. Instead, choose a regular, tasty tomato that you know and love already.

Wash and dry the tomatoes and then halve them and lay them out on a baking tray, with the cut side facing upwards. Sprinkle liberally with salt, which helps to draw out the water content, and a tiny drop of olive oil for each tomato half. and then place in the oven. Bake on the lowest possible setting until all of the tomatoes have dried completely and are wrinkled. Don’t be in a hurry with this stage, as the drying process can take up to 12 hours!

When your tomatoes are completely dried out, pack them into clean, sterilised preserving jars (Mason jars are great for this) and cover with hot oil. If you want to infuse your oil, try adding rosemary or chilli flakes before you pour the hot oil into the preserving jars. If you use a herb such as rosemary, make sure that you wash it and thoroughly dry it before adding it to your jars. Seal the jars and label, especially if you have added some herbs or spices to your Mason jars. Your home-produced sun-dried tomatoes should keep for up to a year.

By making a big batch of sun-dried tomatoes whilst they are available and inexpensive, you can ensure that you have plenty of the most sensational-tasting treats to add to your cooking throughout the year.

How to use sun-dried tomatoes

So you’ve got a whole row of jars of sun-dried tomatoes lining the pantry shelves...what can you do with them? The answer to that is pretty much anything! If you used a dehydrator and stored your tomatoes dry, you’ll need to rehydrate them in water before use. If you stored them in preserving jars filled with oil, you’re good to go.

Try chopping them finely to use in pasta sauces, or make a fresh Caprese salad, with regular tomatoes and mozzarella, and then add a few sun-dried tomatoes on top and sprinkle finely chopped basil over them. Sun-dried tomatoes really pack a punch when it comes to flavour, so don’t be tempted to add loads of them to any one dish, as you may overwhelm it!

Sun-dried tomatoes work brilliantly in tapas, so consider a Spanish-themed dinner for something a little bit special. They’re excellent with goat’s cheese, on bruschetta or crostini too. In fact, pretty much anything goes when it comes to experimenting with tapas, so unleash your imagination and try out some of your own flavour combinations to see what works!

One of the best things about making sun-dried tomatoes is that they retain all of the nutritional value of the raw tomato, so they are a brilliant way of getting some of your five-a-day, even when the summer season is over. Apart from the slow cooking time, they must be one of the easiest home preserving projects, so having a go is the perfect way to dip your toe into preserving if you’ve never tried anything like this.

If you decide to make your own sun-dried tomatoes, be sure to share your photos and success stories with us on social media - we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!