I positively adore tomatoes, in every way possible. Salsa, marinara sauce, pizza, on salad, thick slices with cottage cheese, sun-dried and soaked in olive oil. *sigh*
Last year, my garden dumped a ton of tomatoes on me. I couldn't keep up! The stash on the counter grew and grew and we were eating them every way we could think of. I haven't learned to can yet (on the to-do list for the coming year), but was not about to waste any of those beautiful morsels of summer. I had been dehydrating apples for a year or so, and loving the results. I decided to try my hand at making dried tomatoes.
So now that I've convinced you, let's get started on the how.
Select any ripe tomato. Big juicy tomatoes won't be as good as meatier tomatoes, but I've never regretted dehydrating a tomato. When you dehydrate a tomato, you remove all or most of the water, so the flavor is super-concentrated. This is perfect. For a good tomato, you can turn good flavor into omg-this-is-epic flavor. For tomatoes that are a bit on the bland side, removing the water means that there is distinguishable flavor. Last year I grew a green tomato that was really pretty, but eaten fresh had little flavor. Dehydrating them meant that I could at least taste tomato when I ate them. This kept them from being thrown into the compost or otherwise wasted.
Cut them up, depending on what type. Cherry or grape tomatoes are best simply cut in half. Romas can be cut in halves, quarters, thick or thin slices. Large tomatoes should be sliced in thick or thin slices. A standard dehydrator will hold a lot of tomatoes so make sure you have a good number before getting started. Halves, quarters or thick slices will take longer to dehydrate, but too thin of slices may burn if you don't pull them out soon enough. I'd suggest no thinner than 1/4 inch slices.
Lay the tomato slices evenly across the screens. Don't allow them to overlap at all, but it is fine to have them touching. Place the trays into the dehydrator. If you have a temperature dial, set it for 130-135. The first few times you dehydrate them, make sure it's during the day and you can be home to check them. The last thing you want is to burn those precious beauties! Check them after 4 hours. In my old dehydrator, some of the tomatoes would be ready in 4-5 hours. If one tray is more dry than the others, rotate the trays so the least dry tray is where the most dry tray was. Check every hour or so for the first few times. Keep track of how long it takes your dehydrator to dry tomatoes for the thickness you decided on. In the future you can check less often or allow the dehydrator to run overnight or when you leave the house.
If you are drying slices, the slices will be brittle when ready. To check, remove a couple pieces from the dehydrator and allow them to cool for a couple minutes. They will seem less dry when hot, so you want to allow them to cool completely. Pick them up and drop them on the counter. They should clatter. You can also bend it. If it breaks in half completely, it is very dry and ready to store. If you are drying halves, quarters or thick slices, it won't break in half when you bend them. It will also be harder to dehydrate them as completely, so they may not store as long. For these, after they cool, tear a piece in half. Looking at the torn edge, squeeze the piece firmly. If you see a bead of water start to form or if it looks wet, dry it longer. You want it to look very dry in the middle.
Once they are dry, allow them to cool for several minutes. Don't allow them to cool for more than a half hour, as they can start to reabsorb water from the air, causing them to spoil in storage.
For the longest term storage, keep in a cool, dark, dry place. However, if you plan on using them within the winter following harvest, you can use them as decoration. I line the tops of my cabinets and a shelving unit in my kitchen with glass jars filled with dried foods. It adds a lovely country charm to the room and I love it.
Now for using them! There are so many wonderful ways to use the tomatoes, you'll be devastated when your supply runs out and promise yourself that your going to double your garden space next year (if you are anything like me).
* As a snack-the intense flavor of dehydrated tomato slices is wonderful as is, but you can also sprinkle with seasonings before drying your tomato chips.
* Powder the bone-dry tomatoes. 1 part powder + 1 part water = tomato paste. 1 part powder + 3 parts water = tomato sauce. You could also use this to make tomato juice or tomato soup.
* Crumble tomato slices into a too-thin chili about a half hour before serving to thicken it up perfectly.
* When making a deli-meat sandwich for a bag lunch, place a slice of tomato against the mayo. It will rehydrate using the moisture from the mayo and provide incredible tomato flavor without the sogginess.
* Pour hot oil over a jar of them, then place in the refrigerator for a week. They'll soak up some of the oil to give you wonderful mock sun-dried tomatoes to use on sandwiches, salads, pizza or in pasta dishes. The oil will also be tomato flavored and incredible for salad dressings.
* If your enchilada filling is a bit too thin, add some crumbled tomatoes. They'll rehydrate during cooking.=
What are your favorite ways to use up dehydrated tomatoes?