Drying Tomatoes

Tomato wall'13The tomato vines have reached the top beam of the ten-foot-high greenhouse and the ripening tomatoes are shining red, yellow, purple and striped against the green leaves.  Since mid-July we’ve been keeping up with the harvest, enjoying tomato sandwiches for lunch and a plate of sliced tomatoes or various fresh or cooked sauces for dinner, but now the later varieties are coming on to join the abundant earlier varieties and there are more ripe tomatoes than we can eat in a day.  It’s time to start drying them.

I could can them but drying is so easy that I return to it every year.  Slice the tomatoes about three-eighths of an inch thick, arrange them on the drying racks, turn on the dehydrator to about 130 degrees and six to eight hours later there are dried slices of intense tomato flavor ready to drop into jars, one per variety with room left to add more, and store them in the pantry.  No blanching, no peeling, no packing into hot jars and processing in boiling water.

Tomatoes in basket on ladder

Tomatoes sliced on racksTomatoes dried on racksTomatoes dried in jarsAnd they are just as easy to use in the kitchen. For a quick tomato sauce, I pour boiling water over a cup or so of dried tomatoes, let them soften and then process the slices and liquid in the Cuisinart.  For a tasty tomato spread, I use less water to rehydrate them and process them into a thick paste.  Snipped into slices with scissors, they give welcome tomato flavor to sautéed greens, beans, egg or meat dishes.

The other day I picked a basket of smaller-sized tomatoes, Red Velvet, Sungella, Ukrainian Purple and Darby Striped, all new varieties I’m trying this year.  I sliced the Red Velvet, a cherry tomato, in half, placing them skin-side down on the drying tray and trimmed off the stem and the tip ends of the others then sliced them into three or four rounds, depending on their size, before arranging them on the tray.  The cherry tomatoes took longest to dry; the others, with skin only around the edges, dried more quickly.  I start checking them after five hours and pull off any that are dry to the touch.  If they reach the crisp stage, that’s fine but the slightly flexible, dry slices store just as well. The next day, I picked some larger tomatoes, Black Sea Man, a new one for me this year, and Amish Paste, an old favorite, and followed the same method I used for the smaller round tomatoes.

I’ll dry just about any tomato, but my favorite candidates for drying are Sweet Million cherry tomato, Amish Paste and Speckled Roman, in part for their sweet/tart flavor and in part because of their dense flesh.  Of the new tomatoes I tried this year, small, round, flavorful Darby Striped also seems to be a good candidate for drying.  Juicier, seedier tomatoes, like Black Sea Man, dry well too though I admit that they are probably better peeled, seeded and slowly roasted then cooled, put into jars and frozen.  Drying is still my favorite tomato preservation method but roasting is a close second.  Canning, though, remains a distant third.

Eggplants and Green Beans

Eggplant Green Beans in basketLate yesterday I walked through the kitchen garden looking for what was most ready to harvest and came away with a basket of glossy purple eggplant and matte green beans, pure colors and distinct shapes creating a still life of visual contrasts waiting for a photo but also tastes and textures ready to become a meal.  What to do with the soft, smokiness of eggplant and the crisp sweetness of green beans?  Something simple that would feature each vegetable seemed best.  The bread oven was hot and pizza dough was rising so eggplant pizza was an easy choice and so was quickly boiled beans, both preparations that would concentrate the two flavors and look pretty too.

Eggplant pizza with bowl of green beansEggplant pizza is one of my favorite ways to eat eggplant. Crisp crust, spicy garlic and melted cheeses create the perfect setting for soft roasted eggplant.  The long, slender eggplants in the basket are Hansel, a new one I’m trying this year and really like.  The fuller eggplants are Galine, a favorite for the past few years.  To prepare them for the pizza topping I sliced the Hansels in half lengthwise and the Galine lengthwise into half-inch slices, brushed both sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven until they softened, about ten minutes.  Then I cut them into inch or so pieces.  To make the pizza, I stretched out the dough, brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled the surface with about a teaspoon of chopped raw garlic, topped it with grated Trugole cheese, scattered on the eggplant bits and dusted the whole surface with grated Parmesan.  In the heat of the bread oven they were done and ready to eat in about five minutes.  I still swoon when I take the first bite of this pizza.

The green beans are Maxibel, a bush green bean I tried this year for the first time.  I always grow pole green beans, rarely bush green beans because I prefer the richer flavor of pole beans, but my friend Carol gave me some Maxibel seeds and convinced me to plant them.  They are very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  We’ve been eating them for the past three weeks and the Fortex are only now starting to produce.  I’ll grow them next year.  To prepare them, I drop the whole beans into salted boiling water and cook them, uncovered, for about four minutes, sampling them after three minutes to be sure they don’t overcook.  As a side dish for the pizza, they were perfect.  A little tomato added more color but really the stars were the eggplant and beans.

Eggplant pizza, green beans on plateI’m inspired to try other ways to combine eggplant and green beans, especially on those days when there’s no pizza in the works.  I’m going to try roasting them with some garlic and red pepper flakes as this Asian-inspired recipe from Second Harvest Foodbank suggests:

2-3 Chinese eggplants cut into 1 or 2 inch chunks

1/2 lb fresh green beans, stem ends snapped off

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 400º.

In a large casserole dish or any baking pan with deep sides, toss the eggplant, green beans, garlic, and olive oil until everything is well coated.

Sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes, and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until the green beans are as soft as you would like them.

Yields 4 servings.

There are some curries that use eggplant and green beans too.  I’m sure they’ll be tasty but I doubt that they’ll be better than eggplant pizza with a side of green beans.