Before becoming sous-chef at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Lisa Nakamura worked abroad at restaurants in Seoul, Munich, and Paris and spent three years as sous-chef at Thomas Keller's famed French Laundry. These days Nakamura uses ingredients from the Herbfarm's kitchen gardens and from nearby farms and purveyors to craft the restaurant's signature nine-course nightly menus. "As the weather changes," says Nakamura, "I try to hang on to summer for as long as possible. Even as the rains begin, we are still getting the last of the summer's bounty from our farm, including tomatoes." Preserving the season's last tomatoes via the Herbarm's recipe for oven drying is, Nakamura insists, a way to "keep your summer vacation going for just a little bit longer." Drying the tomatoes concentrates their flavor, a nice alternative to canning or freezing.
As for how to use these dried tomatoes, Nakamura is full of ideas: "Sauté them with onions, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil for a quick pasta sauce. (Penne pasta noodles go great with this kind of sauce.) Chop them and mix them into your favorite vinaigrette. Use them instead of tomatoes for salsa and dress up your favorite fish or chicken dish. Or just snack on them like raisins for a healthier alternative to potato chips!"
Oven-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
Makes one quart of dried tomatoes
(Nakamura writes, "Choose the ripest tomatoes. Heirlooms are especially gorgeous when dried.")
1 gallon boiling water
4 quarts assorted cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Dip the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Immediately put them into a bowl of ice water. Once all the tomatoes have been blanched, peel them carefully. Any broken tomatoes will not dry properly.
Preheat oven to 200°F. Drain the tomatoes and then toss them with the chopped herbs, salt, sugar, and olive oil. Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet, and spray it well with nonstick spray. Place the tomatoes on the rack so that they are not touching each other. Place the tray in the oven.
Let the tomatoes dry for about 4 hours. Check them every hour or so. Drying times will differ from oven to oven. The tomatoes are done when they have shrunk to half their original size and have a "raisiny" appearance. If the tomatoes are still not done after 4 hours, let them continue to cook. Just be careful, as they can quickly go from "dried" to "burned" after they have shrunken by half.
To store them, place the cool tomatoes in an airtight container in the refrigerator.