Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes in Olive Oil
There is no doubt in my mind that fresh tomato and basil is the official taste of the summer. I can understand the argument for watermelon, especially as I have friends who live for Cookout's seasonal watermelon milkshake, but there is nothing that compares with some homemade bread topped with pesto and cherry tomatoes.
Our garden is currently overrun with two things: climbing squash vines on which no squash are currently growing and cherry tomato plants - Matt's Wild Cherry to be exact. I don't like killing volunteers, and anyone who has grown cherry tomatoes for more than one season knows that there are plenty of cherry tomato volunteers. I have dug up several and passed them on to family and friends, and there are still new volunteers just starting to fruit. So now, there are upwards of ten plants growing along the fence line, in the middle of corn patches and next to walkways. This means pints of cherry tomatoes are being harvested on a weekly basis, many of which have been trashed because I couldn't eat them fast enough and I was too preoccupied to take them to the Food Shuttle.
In my first attempt to get sun dried tomatoes in the the oven, I sliced them open, put them in a pan of oil and heated them on warm. The seeds and juice spilled out everywhere creating a gooey mess that in my opinion tasted worse for the wear. A twitter friend mentioned that it the oven was too hot, the tomatoes would become candied implying this was a bad thing, which it probably is if you want them to taste sun dried. However, "candied tomatoes" intrigued me. I decided to give it another go, this time not cutting the tomatoes and opting to leave them whole. I punched up the temperature to 250F, drizzled the pan of tomatoes with a shallow layer of olive oil so that the entire pan was covered, sprinkled on garlic salt and rolled the tomatoes around. I let them bake for several hours, constantly doing taste tests, making sure they didn't stick and replenish the oil when needed. I even had to leave the house for an errand, so I turned off the oven and continued the process later. I also played around with the temperature seeing at what point they sizzled (this was about 265F). A little sizzle is good, so I let them sizzle for a bit too, making sure they didn't burn.
The oil tasted so amazing with the tomato juices baked in that I wanted to make sure there was enough that it could be used for dipping as well as covering the tomatoes when stored in a jar. I didn't want to add more oil at the end of the process since the flavor wasn't nearly as good. Once the skins were translucent and slightly crispy, the tomatoes tasted amazing - as did the oil.
If you are planning on doing this, know that as long as you don't burn the oil or tomatoes, and as long as you don't rupture the skins messing with them too much, you really can't go wrong. One other blogger suggested adding other herbs and even sugar during the process, but I found the tomatoes to be plenty sweet on their own.