Herby Oven Dried Tomatoes
APRIL 7TH 2020
Dried cherry tomatoes are the most delicious dried fruit – in my opinion. I make them in the oven with some simple seasonings. The result is a salty and herby treat that you can snack on as you would any other dried fruit, but (bonus!) they keep in the fridge for several weeks and allow you to impart a robust, smoky tomato flavor to soups, salads, pastas, and eggs, among many other dishes.
Early on in my produce career I worked in the organic tomato industry. I imported and distributed organic tomatoes from Holland and Israel, and I worked with some of the world’s leading tomato researchers and farmers. All of them specialized in producing flavor-packed tomatoes.
I not only learned a lot about growing tomatoes but more importantly how tomatoes get picked and packed and move around the globe, from farms near and far to your kitchen. Today a huge chunk of commercial tomatoes (and other produce), regardless of where it is grown, is produced with shelf life and high yields as the main goal. So, most tomatoes have had the flavor and richness bred right out of them in favor of getting cheap, long-lasting tomatoes out onto grocery store shelves. I’d like to say this is true only in the conventional sector, but we unfortunately see it in the organic sector, too- especially with tomatoes.
Year-round availability and varietals that can withstand long travel times and demonstrate slow-ripening phases are what most grocery stores want. Consumers want the price that comes with that. Personally, I don’t think the mass-consumed mediocre tomatoes are even worth the low prices. They are bland, mealy, and void of any tomato flavor – basically, lifeless. The same can be said of those growing tomatoes ‘locally’ in soilless, high-tech greenhouses – producing tomatoes with less nutritional value and flavor in the name of getting some people tomatoes year-round while saving food miles.
I typically love tomatoes most when they are grown locally and in season. I live in northern California, so this gives me a small window of two to three months to eat them during peak season. But I, like a lot of people, enjoy eating and using tomatoes year-round… if they have flavor. I don’t take huge issue with food being grown and moved around the globe, as long as it is done ethically, organically, and with the health of people and the environment taken into proper consideration. Food has long been being traded and moved from person to person, especially based on weather patterns. The problem with the global food trade today is more the ethical violations and the degradation done to our planet, in the name of greed disguised as prosperity.
In my experience there are many foods that need specific weather patterns and soils to produce peak flavor and nutrition. Tomatoes, for me are, are the epitome of this idea. There are many weather patterns and soil conditions that you simply cannot recreate, these all effect not simply the flavor and deep characteristics of each tomatoes, but the nutritional content as well. I heard it best described like the terroir of wine, where and how you grow your tomatoes, completely effects the flavor. So when I see wild fields of cherry tomatoes on the hillsides of Italy or in small organic fields in Baja, I know there is a better possibility of flavor than that of a gigantic plastic filled greenhouse with artificial lights and liquid injected fertilizers.
There are a few national brands that offer some tasty tomatoes, that I support and I feel deserve accolades for providing us with such tasty, good for the environment cherry tomato treats. The Del Cabo cherry tomatoes are for me the tastiest tomato out there. (Covilli Brand Organics is another favorite.) Del Cabo’s cherry tomato network consists of many small organic, fair-trade farmers throughout the Baja peninsula. Years back, in my commercial herb career, I worked for the company’s herb sector (Jacobs Farm). So, I visited the farms more than once and I have grown familiar with the company’s unique approach to flavor. Open field production causes the plants to have more stress which helps the fruits develop complex flavors.
One of the highlights of my career (I think it’s funny to call it that) was a farm visit to the Del Cabo cherry tomato breeding farm in Baja with some Israeli growers years back. We tasted cherry tomatoes right off the vine in the fields. I probably tasted 40-50 different varietals, and it was mind-blowing how different they all were – different textures, sweetness, acidity, salinity, fruitiness… It was wild, and I loved it. I understood in that moment more than any other in my career how wasteful it was to grow flavorless low nutrition produce and how important it is to support those doing things differently- doing things right.
Their cherry tomatoes are available all over the country. The fruits are reasonably priced, organically grown, come with fair trade certification, and most importantly they have flavor, lots and lots of flavor. They are a staple in my kitchen always and with California’s current shelter-in-place mandate I decided I needed to buy a case.
I use them in everything, like my Cherry Tomato Pizza Sauce or my Cucumber-Mint Tomato Salad, eggs, salads, sandwiches you name it. I didn’t think there would be a problem with eating an entire case of them, even though we are only two people sheltering in place here. But I also knew that I would make my favorite dried tomato snacks with the last of the cases, before they would go bad. The case choice was a good one from the start.
This recipe is putting the last two pints of my case to use. That means that my case lasted more than two weeks! These dried tomatoes will last another 2-3 weeks more stored in the fridge, really stretching the use of these beloved tomatoes.
Del Cabo cherry tomatoes are really the gift that keeps on giving!
Salty & Herby Oven Dried Cherry Tomatoes
Makes 2 cups
There is no point in making oven dried tomatoes without using tasty cherry tomatoes. You can use any combination of fresh herbs or even forgo the herbs all together if need be. Dried oregano is especially good, and dried red chilies can be a nice addition, if you want some kick. You get to decide the dryness of the final fruit- I like them to have a bit of softness to them and since these will be kept in the refrigerator any moisture left in the finished snack is not a problem.
2 pints cherry tomatoes (small sized)
1 tablespoon Maldon salt
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, chives)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chive blossoms (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 250°F.
Cut all of the cherry tomatoes in half and place them cut side up on a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the salt all over the top, followed by the herbs and lemon zest. Drizzle the olive oil over the top evenly. Place in the oven for 2.5 hours until they are just about fully dried, leaving some soft aspects to them, or a little longer it you want them really dried and crunchy. I prefer them softer. Turn off the oven and allow to cool completely. Store in a container with a lid in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.