Dried tomatoes are homemade way to enliven your table

July 27, 1994|By Jana Sanchez-Klein | Jana Sanchez-Klein,Contributing Writer

In the coming few weeks, fresh, ripe, roma tomatoes are going to be at their most delicious, least expensive and most available of the entire year, at markets all around town. What a convenient time to learn to make your own version of sun-dried roma tomatoes at roughly half the cost of the ones you find in the gourmet section of your local grocery.

Cooks who own convection ovens and dehydrators regularly make their own dried tomatoes, but even with an ordinary oven you can make them with little hassle and great results.

Making the tomatoes yourself really doesn't take more than 10 or 15 minutes of preparation time. The waiting, however, is another matter. You must be patient. The lower the temperature used and the longer left in the oven, the better the tomatoes will taste.

After you make the tomatoes, cover them in extra-virgin olive oil and herbs. You can experiment with the oils and herbs you store them in: Instead of the traditional but fabulous basil and garlic, try hot chili oil, or tarragon-infused oils, fresh rosemary or dill. Not only will the oils subtly improve the flavor of the tomatoes, but the flavor of dried tomatoes will sweeten and intensify the oil. The flavored oils are especially delicious in any recipe that calls for the tomatoes, in vinaigrettes, or as a marinade for grilled meats. For a tasty treat, try dipping crusty bread in the tomato flavored oils.

I make these tomatoes often and always keep a jar on my counter. Nona Nielsen-Parker, owner of the catering company, Culinary Capers, makes and uses these tomatoes often, and adds this caveat, "If thoroughly covered in oil, they can remain without refrigeration for up to two months. If you make a larger jar than you can finish in a few months, then keep

them in the refrigerator, and remove them to room temperature a few hours before you need them."

And since you'll have so many dried tomatoes on hand, why not experiment with a few new recipes? From pastas and appetizers that remind you of dining al fresco in Portofino, to the more unusual combinations -- yellow grit stars, for instance -- these tomatoes and recipes will spice up your summer menus.

Decorative jars of these beauties make thoughtful gifts to friends who appreciate good food. And during those cold winter months, when tomatoes aren't quite as nice, your friends will have your gift of golden-red jewels to remind them of summer's delights.

Oven-dried Roma Tomatoes

3 to 4 pounds of ripe roma tomatoes

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

8 to 16 ounces extra-virgin olive oil (enough to cover the tomatoes)

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

3 to 4 garlic cloves, whole

Turn your oven to its lowest setting (somewhere in the 140-degree range). Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and place a baking rack on top of the foil. Slice tomatoes lengthwise, cut off bottoms, and lay slices on rack, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and white pepper and place them in the oven.

The first time you make the tomatoes, check on them every two hours or so. (Oven temperatures vary, I usually let my tomatoes dry overnight.) They are done when most of the detectable moisture is gone, and the golden wrinkles form all over the tomato. (If they become brownish red, they are burnt.)

Remove them from the oven and place them in a jar with the garlic and fresh basil leaves. Fill the jar with olive oil.

Phyllo Dough Pizza Mediterranean

Serves 12 to 16 as an appetizer

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon butter

10 sheets of phyllo dough

6 ounces butter, softened

3/4 cup oven-dried roma tomatoes, roughly cut

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

freshly ground white and black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Saute the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon butter and dry white wine. Set aside.

On a clean dry surface, assemble the following: properly thawed phyllo dough, a pastry brush, softened butter and a large baking tray. Butter the baking tray using the pastry brush. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on the tray, and butter the dough. Working quickly, place another phyllo sheet over that one and press down, and butter that sheet. Repeat the step nine times, buttering each sheet of phyllo, and pressing down the next sheet. If the sheets are larger than the tray, fold over the edges, and butter the area folded over.

Place the baking tray on the center rack and cook until golden brown and crispy, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove it and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Layer the tomatoes, fresh basil, mushrooms, black olives, and garlic on the crust. Sprinkle the feta cheese next, and then the Parmesan. Top off with white and black ground pepper.

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