CORVALLIS, Ore. – Are you wondering what to do with all those tomatoes in your garden? Well, after you've eaten enough BLTs to force you to loosen your BELTs a notch, how about drying them?
Nellie Oehler, a food educator with the Oregon State University Extension Service, offers the following recommendations:
- Select ripe tomatoes of good color. Meaty "plum" varieties such as Roma, Oroma or Saucy work the best. If you want to remove the skins, dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Then immerse them immediately in cold water.
- Cut the tomatoes into slices that are one-quarter inch to one-third inch wide. To prevent them from darkening or turning black, steam or blanch them or put them in a microwave oven until the slices are heated throughout, but not cooked.
- Place the slices on food dehydrator trays. If you want to season them, sprinkle them with herbs and garlic powder.
- Dry the slices until they're leathery and crisp (135 degrees is recommended). It will take about eight to 10 hours depending on the thickness. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place in plastic or glass containers.
When you want to use the dried tomatoes, soak them in hot water until softened. Try them on pizza and in pasta sauce and creamy dips.
Once you've mastered the basics of drying tomatoes, how about taking it a step farther and putting them in oil? The tomatoes as well as the flavored oil can be used on pizza and in pasta salads, appetizers, Italian dishes, vinaigrette dressing, marinade sauce and dips for crusty French bread.
Oehler explains how to do it: First dip the dried tomatoes in bottled lemon or lime juice to soften them. Then place them in your favorite oil. Dried tomatoes can be packed safely in oil and stored at room temperature, as long as you don't add fresh or dried herbs or vegetables. They can introduce potentially harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
If you are making seasoned tomatoes in oil, they can be stored for only four days in the refrigerator. They can, however, be frozen for long-term storage.
More information on drying fruits and vegetables can be found in the OSU Extension Service's online catalog. For information on putting herbs and vegetables in oil, including tomatoes, visit Family and Community Health's Food Preservation page and scroll down to "Other."
And remember, you can get answers to your food preserving questions by calling the OSU Extension Service's food safety and preservation hotline through Oct. 12 at 1-800-354-7319. It's open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Wednesdays when the hotline is only staffed from 1-4 p.m.