Patience, Grasshopper / by Anne

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I eat all my French fries on the way home from the burger place.  According to many people’s upbringings, this is not the best idea, especially for kids.  There are so many reasons to wait: maintaining good habits of eating at the table, keeping  the car clean, and developing maturity through delayed gratification.  I ponder this as I reach my hand into the hot, salty bag at the stoplight.  Because there are many reasons to eat fries now, as well.  Well, one reason.  They are hot and perfect now.  This precious moment is fleeting, not to be wasted on my maturity.

You know that fable about the ants and the grasshopper?  The busy ants work hard, preparing through the summer for the colder months to come, and the grasshopper plays all day, enjoying life.  The grasshopper does not heed the ants’ stern warnings, and he winds up croaking dead once the first snow hits.  No way are the ants giving that slacker any of their hard-earned food.  The Disney version actually depicts the ants as much friendlier folks, and they invite the grasshopper inside for food and shelter during the winter, as long as he’ll be their fiddler. 

With fries, the decision to be a grasshopper is simple.  My semi-impulsive personality jibes with the hot French fry.  But actually, I do work hard.  I do try to make efforts to be antly whenever possible.  After all, there are bigger concerns in the world where thinking ahead trumps carpe diem.  I’m thinking savings accounts.  I’m thinking insurance policies.  I’m thinking tomatoes.

At the moment there are five varieties of tomatoes growing in my backyard.  I forget about them for one day, and kablam!  More tomatoes have exploded with color than I would have predicted.   Languid, heavy and vibrant, they invite you to pick them and eat them immediately, still warm from the sun.   Sometimes we control ourselves enough (or engorge ourselves enough) to actually get a few into that colander which I optimistically bring outside for picking.  Then we can have fresh tomato salad, gazpacho, a myriad of sauces, or just some slices with dinner.   If it involves tomatoes, I’m happy. 

 “Sun” drying tomatoes is an example of being antly, yet lazy.  How cool is it to place supple, round tomatoes into a barely warm oven, and after hours of doing absolutely nothing, remove impossibly delicious dried tomatoes from that oven?  Suddenly you are able to bring sunshine with you, deep into December, without much effort at all.

Sun dried tomatoes’ versatility, as you probably know, is vast.  I add them to sauces, appetizers, sandwiches, and salads.  They’re great in a frittata, bread, and hash browns.  Heck, you could eat them three times a day, with all the meals.  I probably would, but unfortunately I have an unsurprising problem:  I have a hard time keeping enough of these sun-dried morsels to store at all.  Most go straight from the pan into my mouth. 

And here come those cold days.  Too bad I can’t play the fiddle.

"Sun" Dried Tomatoes

Generally when I make dried tomatoes I use nothing but tomatoes, because I want flexibility in how I use them later.  However, if you have recipe in mind for using these dried tomatoes, herbs and flavorings can come in handy.

These are directions for drying tomatoes in the oven, but today I am actually borrowing a neighbor’s dehydrator. It’s pretty great, and I may even get one, eventually.  But the oven is essentially as straightforward to use.

Ingredients:

  • Several pounds of ripe, firm, organic tomatoes.  People say that Roma tomatoes are the best for this, but I use all kinds, from Black Prince heirlooms to regular slicing tomatoes to Sungold cherry tomatoes.  Just choose the best tomatoes you can find.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt(optional)
  • Dried herbs, such as basil, thyme, or marjoram (optional)
  • Olive oil (optional)

Directions:

  1. Set your oven at 150˚ or the lowest setting possible. 
  2. Wash the tomatoes and prepare them for drying: If the tomatoes are small, like Roma, then split them in half lengthwise, notching out the core.  If using larger tomatoes, make several slices to approximate the thickness of half a Roma and remove the core from the slice that holds it.  If using cherry tomatoes (note that tomatoes shrink to about ¼ their original size, so the cherry varieties won’t yield much dried tomato), dip the cherry tomatoes in boiling water for a moment until their skins split, then quickly remove them. Don’t worry about their cores.
  3. Spread out the tomato halves, cut side up, (or slices) on metal cake racks or sheet pans.  Cake racks are better, because they allow better circulation and require less turning. 
  4. If desired, sprinkle salt, herbs, and/or oil over the tomatoes.  Remember that their flavor will condense considerably when they dry.
  5. The amount of time it takes to dry the tomatoes depends on the thickness of your cut and the heat of your oven.  Plan on warming them for 10 or even up to 20 hours.  The heat is very low (hey, not that much higher than a very hot day in Oklahoma!), so this is why this takes so long.
  6. After about 8 to 10 hours, remove the racks and turn the tomatoes over.  Rotate the racks to different levels to achieve balanced heat.
  7. Check the tomatoes again after 4 to 6 hours.  Leave them in if they need more time.
  8. You know that  the tomatoes are ready when they have the rubbery, leathery feel of fresh raisins.  They should not be crispy, nor should they be very sticky or resemble their original smoothness or size.  They will probably be about ¼ the size of the original slices.   You’d probably better go ahead and taste one or two (or five) to make sure.
  9. When they are finished, remove the racks from the oven and cool completely on the counter.  Store in an airtight container.  They will last for months.

Makes the same number of slices that you started with, minus the bites you took to “test” the texture.