TMT (too many tomatoes) is a painless affliction that flares up when one has too many beautiful summer tomatoes to slice and eat (counter-top clutter is a common side effect). I’m no stranger to this condition.
Growing up, our family garden produced bushels of tomatoes every August. Today, friends come to dinner proudly gifting bags of colorful, oddly-shaped heirloom tomatoes from their gardens. And… well, it’s possible that I might have a slight addiction to buying tomatoes (and corn, and arugula, and shell beans, and…) at farmers markets.
Is there a cure for TMT? Yes: Putting the tomatoes up. Since I’m too lazy to can tomatoes or sauce, I’ve learned to use my oven to help me cope with TMT by making oven-dried tomatoes. These tomatoes have countless uses: I eat them straight as part of an antipasti plate; add them to sandwiches, sauces, soups, and stews; chop them fine and add to mayonnaise; use them as a pizza or focaccia topping; or put them under my pillow and hope the tomato fairy leaves me some cash. They’re that good.
Start by coring 4 pounds of tomatoes—no one wants to eat the stem scar or the tough, flavorless bit below. I do this by using a paring knife to cut a cone shape out of the top of each tomato.
Once the tomatoes are cored, halve them through the core with a chef’s or serrated knife. I don’t remove the seeds or jelly-like pulp because they contain a lot of flavor (which will soon be exploited).
It’s a good idea to slow-roast the tomatoes on rimmed baking sheets, which will contain any runaway liquid; for easy cleanup, line the baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Distribute half of the tomatoes (cut-side up) on each sheet.
The tomatoes need liberal seasoning. I use Kosher salt, a lot of freshly cracked black pepper, and dried herbs de Provence. Thyme and oregano make good substitutions for the herbs de Provence here (mint and rosemary do not); you can use fresh herbs, but dried work just fine.
Next, scatter the chopped garlic evenly over the tomatoes. Don’t fret about being too exact—just look for a fairly even distribution.
The final seasoning step is drizzling olive oil over the tomatoes. I like to use the old “thumb over the spout” trick to get a nice small stream of oil that I can easily direct where I want it to go. Glug, glug, glug.
Flip the seasoned tomatoes over, cut-side down. (I use my hand to flip them, both because it’s easier, and because clean tongs will be needed later—and I hate washing tongs.)
The prep work is now done, and it’s time to blister the tomatoes. Place them in a preheated 425-degree oven for 30 minutes (or until the skins wrinkle up a bit and start to get brown in places).
Carefully remove the tomatoes from the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees. The tomatoes will have started giving up their liquid, which is why caution must be exercised when removing the trays.
To pour off the liquid, I find it faster to simply tilt the pans and let the liquid run into a bowl or measuring cup, but I’ve also used a turkey baster, and it works great (and looks showy). Take the tomatoes out of the oven to harvest this liquid every 30 minutes until the tomatoes giveth no more. Pouring off the liquid has two benefits: One, it allows for a cleaner, drier roast without steam making the tomatoes mushy. And two, what gets poured off is literally liquid gold. I’ve used this seasoned tomato water/essence/nectar as a poaching liquid for salmon; I’ve added it to vinaigrettes; used it in sauces; and, when no one’s looking, I’ve happily sipped it straight, no chaser. Trust me when I tell you that you can’t go wrong with this stuff.
Use tongs to remove and discard the hot tomato skins, and then return the tomatoes to the oven. After 1 hour (be sure to keep siphoning off any remaining liquid), use a spatula to flip the tomato pieces cut-side up for the remainder of cooking.
After 3 or 4 hours (it all depends on the tomatoes), the tomatoes look like this—visibly dried with some dark edges. At this point, pull them from the oven (if you like them a little softer or juicier, pull them earlier). The roasting concentrates their flavor, turning the tomatoes into savory, tender little umami bombs. It takes great willpower to resist the urge to eat them all immediately.
Finally, let the tomatoes cool to room temperature on the sheets, and then transfer them to a bowl (or other storage container). I like to cover them completely with extra-virgin olive oil, then wrap the whole thing in plastic and refrigerate them for up to 2 months. Alternatively, you can leave out the oil and instead freeze the dried tomatoes in an airtight container—zipper-lock bags work great—for up to 3 months.