In March I wrote a post about growing Amish Paste tomatoes. I was expecting to harvest from our bushes within 80 days, and only about a month later than expected, the harvest has started. Because of their low moisture content, lack of seeds, meaty like flesh, and extraordinary flavour, semi dried tomatoes are the first "cooked" product I am attempting with these. I know that sun-dried tomatoes were thrown into every conceivable dish during the early 1990's, however I think that semi dried tomatoes are still a force to be reckoned with because of their unique flavour.
The Amish Paste tomato bushes have never been spectacular to look at and had a very understated start as young plants. Like the Amish who first grew them on a large scale, the species isn't about external appearances, it is about the bountiful yield and the end product as the tomatoes are plentiful, perfectly formed, and larger than the roma or egg tomato.
I have cooked two batches of the Amish semi dried tomatoes, and Mr. DIY, my Man of the House, was so taken with the flavour of the first batch cooked slowly in the kitchen oven, that he decided to help and factor in some improvements with the cooking process of the second batch. These were cooked slowly in the BBQ which must have a hood, and which I thought was probably a good idea as it frees up the kitchen oven for other projects and takes the heat out of the kitchen in the summer months. However, still a little bit nervous about venturing out of my kitchen on such an important mission, the preparation began.
I experimented with the first batch, cooking one tray with the addition of fresh herbs and one without to see if this makes any difference to the quality of their preservation. I will store some in the frig, some in my dark pantry cupboard, and some in the freezer for quality control as I also live in a hot, humid part of the world in summer. Maggie Beer says they will last in the frig for weeks. I am hoping that the couple of bottles stored in my pantry will last longer. Dipping them in Maggie Beer's Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar before bottling increases the acidification process slightly and will increase their shelf life. However, tomatoes are very acidic anyway.
2 kilos Amish Paste or Roma ripened tomatoes (these must be good quality without blemishes)
Fresh rosemary stalks or fresh thyme
Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar (Verjuice isn't as strong in flavour as Red Cider Vinegar)
Extra Virgin Oil
Lots of time whilst they cook (2 hours at least)
1.Wash tomatoes, dry, and cut in halves.
2.Scrape out the seeds and discard if you wish. (However, I have dried the seeds between sheets of recycled serviettes in a warm area of the house, which can then be used for future planting as they are such good tomatoes, and it saves buying seedlings next time.)
3.Salt the cut tomatoes, with only as much salt as you would normally use for eating, and press them for 30 minutes between layers of absorbent kitchen wrap, with a heavy layer of books and pans on top to squeeze out excess moisture. My second batch of tomatoes destined for the BBQ were pressed by Mr. DYI between large pieces of board and kitchen wrap clamped together, in his shed, with quality cleanliness controls in place of course. Much more moisture was removed this way. His inventions are priceless.
4.Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with chopped rosemary or thyme. The second batch cooked in the BBQ oven was sprinkled with chopped rosemary and the rosemary stalks placed on the trays to further infuse the tomatoes with the smell of rosemary.
5.Place the pressed tomatoes in the oven or in the BBQ on racks so that the air can circulate freely around them and cook slowly at 150 deg. C for 2 hours or until all of the moisture has disappeared, the tomatoes are reduced in size, and the edges are firm and wrinkled. Some tomatoes will cook faster than others, so after an hour keep an eye on them. It helps to open the door slightly in the kitchen oven for the last hour to allow the moisture to escape. If you would like to eat the tomatoes straight away or within the next few days cooking them at 180 deg. C for a shorter time will caramelise them beautifully.
The smell of the tomatoes cooking in the BBQ, combined with the heady aroma of the rosemary was sensational reminding me of cold wintry nights spent in log cabins with the wood fires burning. That was a bonus. The subtle smell of rosemary is still perceptible in the house a day later.
|Halved tomatoes cooking at 150 deg. in the outdoor BBQ infusing with rosemary.|
|Semi dried tomatoes straight out of the BBQ oven|
Remove the tomatoes from the oven, leave on racks to cool and dry, before bottling.
Dip the semi dried tomatoes quickly in Verjuice or Red Cider Vinegar to increase the acidification process, and bottle in clean sterilised jars, covered in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Pack the tomatoes down tightly, and ensure the top layer of tomatoes is completely covered with oil and that the oil doesn't touch the lid of the bottle.
Enjoy with fresh goats cheese and some good crusty homemade bread or bruschetta.
If you have had success with cooking semi dried tomatoes I would love to hear from you and have you tried any interesting variations with cooking them?