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PACKING THE FLAVOR OF SUMMER INTO JARS


To my mind, the best part of this time of year is garden-ripe tomatoes. Even when the rest of the garden has succumbed to the heat, the ruby globes still expand beneath their canopy of furry leaves. Just brushing up against the waist-high tomato bushes releases the pungent scent of salads into the hot air.

Come winter, I know I`m going to wish for this scent, this heady flavor. Even though my tomato plants will be dug under mulch and snowfall, I`ll have packed memories of them into jars of sun-dried tomatoes.

I first sun-dried fresh tomato slices on my back porch in Palo Alto, Calif., lining thick slices on screens from an overproducing garden. Covered with thin layers of cheesecloth, they dried easily before the birds snapped them up. But because of the moist summer air of my current home, my sun-dried tomatoes are made in a slow oven indoors. They taste just as good, and are a little easier to guard from curious feathered or four-footed friends.

It`s hard to believe that the tomato has had such a short history in our country. Americans beheld the first edible tomato in 1840 when a New Jersey farmer stood on courthouse steps and ate a raw tomato in front of a crowd to prove it was not poisonous. It took much longer for the sun-dried tomato to catch on; for many years they were only sold in gourmet stores.

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But consider the advantages of sun-dried tomatoes: Afew slices in a low-fat tomato sauce adds buttery flavor that reminds me of olive oil. Their flavor is more intense than fresh tomatoes, especially when they`re made with the meaty Roma (Italian plum) tomato.

Preserving sun-dried tomatoes is as simple as packaging the dried slices into Ball jars. I keep mine in the refrigerator for up to six months. I also enjoy homemade sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil or other marinades.

HOMEMADE ``SUN``-DRIED TOMATOES IN OLIVE OIL

The easiest way to set up your tomato drying is to line baking sheets with racks used for cooling baked goods.

6 pounds ripe Roma (Italian plum) tomatoes

Olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise almost all way down, leaving 2 halves attached at very end. Open 2 halves like book and place each, cut side up, on racks.

Bake at 200 degrees about 7 hours until tomatoes are reduced to 1/4 their original size, and are dark red and shriveled but not hard. Remove racks from oven and let tomatoes cool 1 hour.

Pack into 3 pint jars. Cover completely with olive oil. Seal jars. Let marinate in refrigerator at least six weeks before using. Makes 3 pints.

HOMEMADE ``SUN``-DRIED TOMATOES IN WINE AND HERB MARINADE

Another variation is this wine-scented marinade. It stores best in the refrigerator also.

6 pounds ripe Roma (Italian plum) tomatoes

2 cups olive oil

2 cups dry red wine

2 tablespoons minced fresh shallots

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, almost all way down, leaving 2 halves attached at very end. Open 2 halves like book and place each, cut side up, on racks.

Bake at 200 degrees about 7 hours until tomatoes are reduced to 1/4 their original size, and are dark red and shriveled but not hard. Remove racks from oven and let tomatoes cool 1 hour. Pack into 3 pint jars.

In large bowl, combine oil, wine, shallots, salt, thyme and oregano. Pour over tomatoes, covering completely. Addextra olive oil if needed. Marinate in refrigerator overnight before using. Makes 3 pints.

PASTA SAUCE WITH FRESH AND DRIED TOMATOES

Sun-dried tomatoes add low-calorie richness to this easytomato sauce.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup minced onions

3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

1/2 cup red wine, optional

1 cup minced fresh mushrooms

3 cups chopped tomatoes (peeled or unpeeled)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon honey

1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

Ground black pepper

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned, 10 minutes. Add wine and mushrooms and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, sun-dried tomatoes and basil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, 25 minutes. Add pepper. Makes 8 servings.

(Mary Carroll is the author of the ``No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook,`` Rodale Press.)

(c) 2000, Mary Carroll. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.


Author: Mary Carroll

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