One of my favorite, all purpose, condiments on this little planet is sun dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil. Authentic sun dried tomatoes capture the essence of the tomato and can be enjoyed year round. There is a difference between tomatoes that have been truly dried in the sun and dehydrated tomatoes (click here to learn how to dehydrate your own tomatoes).
As a young boy, one of my first vivid memory includes large outdoor tables lined with hundreds of thinly sliced tomatoes laying in the Calabrian sun. My grandmother would dry the tomatoes outdoors for days until the slices turned a deep red color and shriveled beyond recognition. The sun was of the southern Italian variety, of course, and the tomatoes heirloom and nurtured, by most standards, better than most small children. The combination of dry/intense Mezzogiorno sun and superb tomatoes yielded a product that didn’t need much sprucing, but leave it to Nonna Vincenzina to preserve the tomatoes and add even more flavor.
- 3-4 cups of olive oil depending on the size of canning jar
- Fresh basil (you’ll need a good amount of leaves to include in each layer, more on this below)
- 4-5 cloves of minced garlic
- ½ cup of dried oregano
- Kosher salt
- 3-5 pounds of sun dried tomatoes (try and find the imported variety; here’s a link to some organic sun dried tomatoes just in case you can’t get them from Italy)
- Start by finding a large, wide mouth, mason jar; pint size is fine, but if you can find larger jars they’ll store more tomatoes. Wash your mason jar very well and you can even go as far as sterilizing the jar. Moreover, it’s vital that your hands and any other tool used for the process are exceptionally clean.
- Next, begin layering your unseasoned sun dried tomatoes in the jar in the following order: 1. layer of tomatoes, 2. sprinkle of kosher salt, 3. garlic, 4. pinch of dried oregano, 4. layer of fresh basil leaves
- Repeat the above layering process until you’re nearly at the top of the jar (don’t over stuff the jar because your last step includes filling the jar with olive oil).
- When you’re finished with each layer push down with a flat object to compress the ingredients.
- Finally, fill the jar with olive oil, making sure that the tomatoes are completely submerged (note: the oil will need some time to settle so make sure all of the tomatoes are covered).
- Screw on the lid tightly and store the jar in a cool, dark, closet or cupboard.
- You’ll need to let the tomatoes sit 6-8 days before consuming them (the oil needs to soften the tomatoes and you also need to let the garlic, basil, and oregano do it’s thing).
Sun dried tomatoes go well with a crisp white wine to off-set the sweet and rich flavor of the cured tomato; try a nice Chenin Blanc from South Africa (yes, I know it’s not a southern Italian wine, but, hey, it pairs nicely!)
Note and Disclaimer (viz a viz Clostridium Botulinum)
It’s vital when you cure vegetables in olive oil that you thoroughly clean the jar itself as well as all the ingredients and utensils used in the preparation. My family has been curing and pickling vegetables (as well as tomatoes for tomato sauce) for well over 50 years and we haven’t had any health issues. Although our family has been doing this for many years without incident, there aren’t good studies establishing this practice as safe. Many food safety authorities advise against preserving tomatoes and garlic in oil due the risk of bacterial contamination and proliferation of spores, especially clostridium botulinum, which could be fatal.