Who doesn’t love using sun-dried tomatoes in their cooking! The intense flavour and chewy texture add a unique depth to a dish. Although they are associated with Italian cuisine, dried tomatoes in oil are versatile and can be used in cuisines from all over the world. From pasta sauces to antipasto platters, sandwiches to salads, explore the creative culinary possibilities with these rich and tangy gems that you’ve made at home.
Historically, the drying was done out in the Italian sunshine, but nowadays, we can recreate the process in a food dehydrator and get the job done in any climate. If you are new to dehydrating tomatoes, start by reading, ‘Best practise, drying tomatoes in a food dehydrator’.
Dried tomatoes are so much easier to use when they are infused in oil. Although tasty straight up, dried tomatoes are extremely hard and leathery and to use them, they must be rehydrated. Infused in olive oil, you can cut them up and use them immediately, without needing to rehydrate in water first. Apart from convenience, the concentrated flavour of tomatoes is enhanced by the herbal oil infusion.
Historically, the function of oil is to prevent oxidation, it is not a preservative. While storing tomatoes in oil is a time-honoured practise there is a potential food safety risk unless certain basic precautions are taken. Fortunately, when tomatoes are correctly dehydrated, the natural acid components become so concentrated that the risk of food poisoning is eliminated. Bottom line - the tomatoes must be fully dried and only dried herbs, dried spices and dried garlic can be used. Nothing fresh can be added to the jar.
We immerse the dried tomatoes in boiling water and vinegar to acidify and preserve them before storing in oil. The brief dip rehydrates just enough for the tomatoes to absorb the vinegar more easily. As a bonus, this step also improves the texture. If you stored dehydrated tomatoes in olive oil (without rehydrating slightly first) they’d remain tough and chewy.
This step sounds counter initiative and you may wonder why you can’t simply dehydrate the tomatoes partially or at least for less time. For several factors, tomatoes don’t dehydrate evenly. For example, some of our segments dried in 10 hours while others took twice that time. To eliminate any opportunity for bacteria to thrive under the oil, all the tomatoes must be completely dried.
To infuse the oil with additional flavour, you can add various dried herbs, spices, and aromatics. Popular options include dried basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, chopped garlic, chilli flakes, pepper corns, or citrus.
Heating the olive oil slightly will help to soften the tomatoes, draw out the flavour, and move the seasoning deeper into the tomatoes.
You will need quite a bit of oil, but you will be able to use it in cooking when you use up the tomatoes. The left over, rich, and fruity tomato oil is delicious used as a flavourful drizzle on crusty bread, in salad dressing, dips, and so much more.
Once the jar is packed and filled with oil, leave it for several weeks in a cool and dark place for the flavours to develop. Dried tomatoes in oil have a long shelf life, (up to a year or more), as long as there is no cross-contamination. Remove tomatoes from the jar as needed, keeping the jar sealed in between. Tomatoes that are exposed to air will mold over time, so each time you open the jar, make sure to submerge the remaining tomatoes under the oil or add extra olive oil if you need to.
This recipe makes 2 small jars. Increase the quantity of fresh tomatoes for more jars.