So many of us are trying to think of ways to use all those excess tomatoes once they all begin ripening, that it just makes sense to dry them. That way, there’s a bit of home grown tomato flavor to last throughout the winter. It’s crazy to think that a package of sun dried tomatoes can cost anywhere from $5 to $10 per pound, so why not make your own.
Why Dry Tomatoes?
Dried tomatoes are intensely flavor-packed and surprisingly sweet. They have so many uses in recipes that you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried them before now (more on that a little further down the page…).
Tomatoes consist of 95% water, which means that once they are dried you will reduce their overall weight/volume down to almost 5%. One pound of fresh tomatoes can weigh as little as .8 to 2 ounces when dried. Once dried, they take up so little space versus canning.
Year-long Reminders Of Summer
Dried tomatoes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 months, or stored in your freezer for up to one year. You will be able to reap the benefits of your successful harvest well beyond the summer. If you items in your freezer tend to get freezer burn, coat the dried tomatoes with a light spray of olive oil before freezing.
All the health benefits of fresh tomatoes are jam-packed into dried tomatoes. Drying does not decrease the vitamin and mineral benefits. The sodium levels can be a little high, so it’s best not to salt the tomato slices prior to drying.
Why Not Actually Sun Dry The Tomatoes Outside?
There is a lot more prep work, labor, and drying time involved in drying tomatoes outside in the sun. Because tomatoes contain so much water, you’ll need to squeeze out a bit to facilitate outside drying and turn each slice every day. You will want to inspect each of the slices as you turn them to rule out the tell-tale signs of white mold. The process can take anywhere from 4 to 10 days because it is weather-dependent. There is a risk that insects might infest the slices, a few cloudy days might interrupt the process, and/or nighttime humidity delay drying if they are not brought inside in the evenings.
How To Make Oven “Sun-Dried” Tomatoes
You really don’t need any special equipment to make sun-dried tomatoes in your oven, other than a cookie sheet and a liner (and a little bit of patience). The liner you use can be wax paper, parchment paper, a silicone mat, or even a baking rack.
Using a baking rack dries the tomatoes much more evenly and quickly, but the tomatoes will lose their uniform shape. If you will primarily be crumbling, blending, or chopping up your dried tomatoes and adding them into dishes, then a baking rack is the faster option. Using a baking rack on your cookie sheet will dry the tomato slices faster, because both sides of the tomato slice are exposed to low heat. The only downside is that you won’t have perfectly flat shaped dried tomatoes. But if you’re chopping or crumbling them up for a salad, their shape won’t matter.
If you use a liner, your dried tomatoes will have a more uniform appearance, which makes for a nicer presentation when used on breads or pizza. Another benefit to laying the tomatoes directly onto paper or silicone mat is that they’ll dry in their own juices, which intensified their flavor even more. The downside to this method is that it will take a few hours longer to dry the tomatoes because only one side is exposed to the heat.
You should slice the tomatoes to 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch thickness. The thickness will determine whether they are super dry or slightly chewy once oven dried. The thickness also is a factor in drying time as well as the oven temperature you will want to set.
If you have a convection oven or an oven with “Fast Bake” mode, you can reduce the time necessary to dry the tomatoes by 1/3.
You will know your tomatoes are done once they look almost paper thin. They might be slightly crispy and hard, but not brittle. Their color should be a deep, almost dark red, but not dark brown or burned in appearance. They might have a little bit of flexibility. But if they are gummy or bend easily, they are not yet dried enough.
If you are planning on making tomato powder using your dried tomatoes, you will want to extend the drying time until all the tomatoes are almost paper thin and very crispy. Tomato powder is great in soups and sauces, and a little goes a long way.
Here is a photo of 3/4 inch sliced tomatoes in a 180 degree oven after 8 hours. They’ve shriveled a bit, but have at least 10+ hours more to go.
You can pre-season your tomato slices before you start drying them, although that’s really not necessary.
To Skin Or Not Skin Your Tomatoes
One downside to dried tomatoes is that the whole dried tomato skin can be pretty tough in dishes and doesn’t rehydrate well. That’s not really an issue if you will be making tomato powder or chopping up the dried tomatoes. But if you want to use intact slices of dried tomato on Bruschetta or on pizzas, or as snacks, it may be a good idea to skin them before drying.
To skin tomatoes, cut a long X into the skin on the blossom end of the tomatoes and drop them in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute, then shock them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes.
If you are having trouble slicing the peeled tomatoes, put them in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to firm them up a bit before slicing.
Skinning tomatoes adds a lot more labor to the process, so it’s usually reserved for larger tomatoes.
Drying Tomatoes In The Oven
- Select fresh tomatoes that are ripe but still slightly firm enough to neatly slice.
- Give the tomatoes a quick rinse if you won’t be peeling them.
- Slice the tomatoes into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices.
- Arrange the tomatoes on the lined cookie sheet.
- Bake at 170-180 degrees for 1/2″ slices or at 180-190 degrees for 3/4″ slices.
- Every 2 hours or so, briefly open the oven to let excess moisture escape.
- Bake for 16-24 hours, or longer until the tomatoes are completely dry.
- It’s okay to turn the oven off overnight; just leave the door closed.
Storing Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Dried tomatoes can be stored in any type of airtight container; mason jars, zip lock bags, rubbermaid or other plastic containers, vacuum-sealed bags, etc. If you aren’t freezing the dried tomatoes, keep them in a dry, dark cupboard and use within 6 months. If you are freezing your tomatoes, you should use them within 12 months.
Uses For Sun Dried Tomatoes In Recipes
There are endless uses for dried tomatoes, and if you’ve tasted them you’ll know why they end up is so many gourmet dishes. The intensity of flavor and the surprising sweetness (with a hint of tartness) make them the perfect accent for so many recipes.
If your dried tomatoes are slightly pliable, you can add them as is. If they are crisp and you would like them a bit softer, toss them in olive oil and let them soak for about 30 minutes and they’ll be chewy. If you need them to be softer, hydrate them in some water for no more than an hour (otherwise they’ll get mushy). It’s easier to cut or chop them before you add oil or water.
You can put them in the food processor or coffee grinder and pulverize the dried tomatoes into a powder and treat it as a spice or seasoning for soups, sauces and chilis.
You can finely chop the dried tomatoes and add a splash of color to side dishes such as corn, green beans or brussel sprouts.
Whole dried tomato slices can be used on pizza, bread slices or in salads.
Fine tomato slivers can be added to rice, rissoto, and just about any pasta or egg dish.
Recipes That Use Dried Tomatoes
Dried tomatoes add a pop of color and an unexpected punch of flavor to so many dishes.
- Balsamic Basil Tomato Bruschetta
- Creamy Tomato Penne Parmesan Pasta
- Margherita Tomato Pizza
- Garlic Tomato Flatbread
- Pepperoni Tomato Pizza
- Linguine Tomato Pesto
- Creamy Garlic Tomato Chicken
- Sun Dried Tomato Marinara
- Tomato Hummus
- Sun-dried Tomato Cream Cheese Spread
- Red Wine Vinaigrette With Dried Tomatoes
- Sour Cream Potato Salad With Dill And Dried Tomatoes
- Southwestern Omelettes with Sun Dried Tomotoes
- Crab Cakes With Green Peppers and Dried Tomatoes