Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sun Dried Tomatoes: Making Your Car Earn Back That Gas Money

I love Mediterranean food. The olive oil, the cheese, the pine nuts, the sun dried tomatoes. If I could eat tapas for the rest of my life and nothing else, I so would. I would also have excellent cholesterol and live forever, if pop-nutrition is to be believed. But alas, I don't have a villa in the south of Spain. I also can't really afford most Mediterranean ingredients. However, between this recipe and the preceding one, I think I'll almost be ready to start day-drinking on my porch and demanding that my roommates bring me an olive and cheese board with every carafe of sangria (isn't unemployment grand?).

The reason why all this European luxury will soon be mine to enjoy in the comfort of my East Austin slum? My roommate and I have discovered a secret. A dark and terrible secret that could bring down entire economies. Here it is: Sun-dried tomatoes are a rip-off. The sun on the Iberian Peninsula is no better than the sun in Texas. In fact, given the current color of my face, I'd wager that it's not as strong. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Sure, you can dry stuff here, too, but we have bugs outside. And if you do them in a dehydrator or the oven it still costs an arm and a leg in electric bills." True enough. But there's another way: Using the unbearable heat in your car as it bakes on a cement blacktop to dry your tomatoes. Seriously. You get to use a 150F oven for 12 hours a day for free. How cool is that? Very cool. Idiomatically speaking, of course. And let's face it, with gas vaulting up to $5/gallon, you can't afford to do anything else with your car anyway.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes: The Car Oven Method

Wire baking racks
Cookie sheets

Tomatoes (Roma tomatoes are good, as are cherry, etc)
Dried herbs if you want to get fancy


Depending on the type of tomato you're using, slice the tomatoes so there is a good amount of flesh on each slice. For cherry tomatoes it's enough just to halve them, but a Roma Tomato will require several vertical cuts. Place the baking racks on the cookie sheets and arrange the tomato slices on the wire racks. It's important to use racks so that there is ample air flow both on top of and underneath the tomatoes. If you've decided to be fancy and use an herbal blend (basil, rosemary, and garlic powder are a good place to start), now is the time to dust the slices with the herbs. Once the racks are prepped, all you have to do is stick them on your dashboard or in the rear window of your car (they need direct, pounding sunlight), roll up the windows, and let nature take its course. I recommend starting them in the early morning so they'll have the full day to dry. If they're still a little watery by nightfall, it's okay to leave them overnight and dry them for another day or two.

However, a word of warning: Be careful not to let them dry for too long. With our second batch, my roommate decided they were perfect by nightfall on day two. Rather than take them out at that point, he opted for bed. By the time he dashed back out to the car at the crack of noon, we had passed the point of dried tomatoes and moved into tomato chips. They were rock hard. We have them soaking in a jar of olive oil, but they still only soften when you heat them up.

Once your tomatoes are as dry as you'd like them, you have a few choices. You can use them immediately; store them in a cool, dry, airtight container; or vacuum seal them.

(Pictured: The only good thing to come out of my car since 2007.)

Effort Rating (On a scale from 1 to Fuck This!):

Cost Comparison:
12oz jar of organic sun-dried tomatoes: $13.55
12oz jar of homemade organic sun-dried tomatoes: $2.50

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