Commercially produced sun-dried tomatoes have enjoyed a honeymoon period where people have eaten them because it was fashionable so to do. Many of the brands are literally disgusting with a leathery texture and a rank taste. Home-dried tomatoes, by comparison, are altogether nicer. The word ‘dried’ is somewhat misleading for they are not dried to the extreme degree of sun-dried tomatoes and are still quite soft to the bite. The procedure involved is so simple and the end result so good, 1 guarantee you will be a convert after the first time you make them. They are brilliant in a tart, tossed with fresh pasta or in a salad... the uses are endless.
Use plum tomatoes, which are now available for most of the year, many of them grown under plastic in Spain and none the worse for it When you buy them they will almost certainly have been held at a low temperature and will not be ripe. Assuming you buy from a supermarket take them out of their plastic packs and spread out on a flat surface in a warm place to ripen. Never put tomatoes in the fridge: they will just sit there sullenly like red and pointless bullets. Avoid those horrid Dutch greenhouse tomatoes like the plague. It is one of life’s great mysteries that something which looks like a tomato should taste of nothing at all and move from a state of inedible, rock-and-water nastiness to going bad without ever passing through a stage of ripeness.
When the tomatoes are dried, use them at once or pack them in jars and cover with good olive oil. They may then be stored for up to six months without refrigeration, so long as the jars are scrupulously clean and the tomatoes completely covered.
Use as many plum tomatoes as you feel like drying. A word of warning however: do not try to dry too many at once. Alternatively, experiment with longer drying times. As a rough guide, 16 tomatoes will produce two baking trays of dried halves.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas2 and drizzle olive oil over the baking trays • Cut the tomatoes into halves longitudinally. Slide the knife round the inside of each half to remove the pulp and pips, leaving you with something that resembles a small boat.
Arrange the tomato halves on the trays so that they are not touching. Dribble a little more oil over the top and sprinkle sparingly with salt and caster sugar. Put in the oven for about 45 minutes. Remove and leave to cool. Taste one, eat the tray and start again.
© 1993 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.