Add robust and savory summer flavors to your favorite dishes with easy oven-dried tomatoes. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Healthy Cooking: Let the oven bring out the best in your tomatoes

Yes, please. When your co-worker/neighbor/mother-in-law offers to bless you with an abundance of garden-fresh tomatoes, say, “yes, please.” Even if they’ve ripened all at once, and even if you think you can’t possibly eat every last one, take the tomatoes. Because, Readers, there’s no such thing as too many tomatoes. Not when we oven-dry them.

Oven-dried tomatoes are not the same as the tough, leather-like sun-dried tomatoes that were trendy when bruschetta, balsamic vinegar and a Backstreet Boys CD made a party. Instead, oven-dried tomatoes are soft and a little juicy. Similar to when you reduce a sauce for potency, oven drying reveals an intense tomato flavor without acidity. And these tomatoes are insanely easy to make.

Slice your tomatoes in half and sprinkle them with seasoning. Here I suggest basic salt and red pepper flakes, but you should absolutely branch out and use your own favorite spices. Black pepper, garlic salt and/or onion powder are all good choices. Leafy dried herbs like thyme and rosemary can work too, but don’t add them until the last half hour of baking since they may scorch.

The key to oven drying is to allow the hot air to circulate around all sides, including the bottoms, of your tomatoes. Without overcrowding them, place your seasoned raw tomatoes on a wire rack (the kind you use to cool cookies). Resting the rack in a foil-lined baking sheet will make cleanup a breeze.

You’ll get the most flavor from roasting the tomatoes low and slow, at 225 degrees for five to six hours. Do not let the cook time give you pause. It’s entirely unsupervised, so you can spend those hours collecting even more tomatoes to play with. I pull my tomatoes from the oven after five hours, when they’re still a little juicy. I add them to plain pasta with a little fresh mozzarella and basil, and the roasted tomato juices become the pasta sauce. But feel free to cook your tomatoes for the extra hour if you prefer a consistency similar to that of a dried apricot. Super-dried tomatoes work nicely in salads, or whirled in the food processor to make a savory tomato pesto.

If you are still balking at the time commitment, you can dry your tomatoes in three or four hours if you scoop out the seeds and pulp before roasting. Removing the juicy insides won’t affect the flavor, but it will make the texture more chewy. Alternatively, you can leave the seeds and pulp as is and simply crank the heat to 275 degrees; but watch for crispy edges during the last hour.

Your oven-dried tomatoes will keep in an airtight, refrigerated jar for a week. Toss a few into tomato-centric recipes, like shakshuka or chicken paprikash, to deepen the flavors. Even our old favorite bruschetta, when made with a mix of fresh and oven-dried tomatoes, tastes new again. Or elevate tomatoes from their supporting role by substituting oven-dried for fresh tomatoes in almost any sandwich (BLT, I’m looking at you). If you inexplicably find yourself with more oven-dried tomatoes than you can consume, you can preserve them for up to six months by topping off the jar with heart-healthy olive oil. Which means you’ll carry the taste of summer through the rest of the year. And who can’t say yes to that?

Your oven-dried tomatoes will keep in an airtight, refrigerated jar for a week, but you can preserve them for up to six months by topping off the jar with heart-healthy olive oil. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Photo: For the AJC

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