Preserving Herbs, Tomatoes and Peppers

The herbs are doing phenomenally well this year, and I am preserving everything I can from the gardens. With the help of my Excalibur dehydrator, I have been dehydrating a lot of those herbs! You can see in the picture that the basil, thyme and oregano are totally full (I vacuum sealed those) and will be starting more jars shortly. After Monday’s abundant rain, there will be lot’s more to harvest tomorrow! Like the jars? Just Ball canning jars and a paint pen!

Dried herbs stored in pint jars.

Preserving tomatoes

The tomatoes are also coming along and ripening quite nicely now. Because I still have plain canned tomatoes (diced, whole, puree, etc.) from last fall, I am preserving them differently this year. Basic tomatoes are great, but sometimes you want something more. The Gladiator romas are huge! They are averaging about 6 ounces each. I am seeding and roasting them along with fresh herbs, garlic and peppers. This makes all the flavors and juices concentrate, and I can either use them as a side dish, in casseroles or soup, in pasta dishes, or puree them for sauce.

The San Marzano tomatoes are smaller but very meaty, with few seeds. These are being dehydrated to use when I only want to add a little tomato to a dish, or to make tomato powder. You can also dry them to make “sun dried” tomatoes in olive oil. The first picture shows the fresh tomatoes on the dehydrator screens after washing, cutting into wedges and removing the seeds. Picture #2 is after drying. You can see in these pictures just how much they shrink! After drying them completely they were vacuum sealed in a mason jar, just like the herbs. Can you believe that is the result of 25 tomatoes or over 3 pounds?

Fresh sliced tomatoes in dehydrator. Tomatoes after dehydrating.  Vacuum sealing quart jar of dried tomato slices. Close up of dried tomatoes in a quart jar.

So, what is tomato powder and how do you use it?

Tomato powder, simply put, is powdered tomatoes. Once your tomatoes are completely dry (crispy), you grind them to a powder using a mill or food processor. This can then be vacuum sealed in jars or bags, or bagged and frozen (either way works). The powder can be used to make tomato paste, tomato soup, added to sauce to give a richer flavor and help thicken it, or to just add tomato flavor wherever you want it.

How do you roast tomatoes?

Very easily! Just remove any stems and wash them well. Cut in half, core, and at this point you can either scoop out the seeds or leave them in, your choice (I remove the seeds). Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to cover the bottom of a large baking pan. Sprinkle with your choice of herbs (fresh or dried), diced peppers, diced onions and minced garlic. You can basically add anything you would like in your tomatoes. Place tomato halves on top of this, close together and cut side down. Roast at 350° for about an hour and a half or until the tops are nicely browned but not burned. When they are done and have cooled off a bit, pinch the skins and they should pull off easily. When cooled completely, just package and freeze, or enjoy them now!

Tomatoes ready for roasting. Tomatoes after roasting. Roasted tomatoes ready to go into fridge to chill before packaging for freezer.

Above you can see a tray ready for the oven, after roasting and the final product (skins removed) headed for the fridge to cool. (Pat had a healthy serving of this over pasta with a bit more S&P and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.) For this batch, I used about 5 pounds of Gladiator romas, 3 Emerald Giant peppers, 2 little Tweety yellow sweet peppers, some mushrooms that needed to be used soon, a tiny summer squash that got knocked off the plant, some dried Italian blend spices and S&P. Go easy on the salt as flavors concentrate. It’s what’s for dinner tonight!

I do my eggplant this way, too, except I cut it into chunks first. You can also roast hot or sweet peppers the same way, or even do those on the bbq grill for more flavor.

How do you make those “sun dried” tomatoes?

If you want to make the “sun dried” tomatoes in oil, you first dry your tomato slices or halves until they are like leather, not crispy. They should be soft enough to bend, but should not show any signs of moisture. When leather hard, just cover them with warm olive oil in a clean jar with a lid, and place them in the fridge for 24 hours, then enjoy! You can also season them with dried or fresh herbs at the same time. These will only keep for a week or so, so plan on only making as much as you need now. They only take 24 hours so make it as you need it. If you dry a big batch of tomatoes, take out what you need now and freeze the rest for future batches.

Yes, there are people who say you can safely make these by dipping the dried tomatoes in wine vinegar before covering with oil, and keeping a jar in your pantry forever as long as you don’t add herbs or anything. Personally, I don’t recommend anything I am not comfortable doing myself.

Hope you enjoyed these ideas for preserving your bounty of tomatoes! If you did, or if there is something else you want to know about harvest ideas or recipes, please comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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