There are few meals more satisfying for a solo diner, usually sometime after 9 p.m., than spaghetti simply tossed with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes, garnished with lots of Parmesan cheese.
When it’s high tomato season, the pasta includes fresh-my-own-garden fruit, either diced beefsteak varieties, or halved cherry tomatoes. In winter and spring, I have no qualms about throwing in commercially prepared, oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes from the jar that has perpetual status in my refrigerator.
The garden usually doesn’t yield enough tomatoes for drying, after we’ve consigned the paste varieties to sauce. But this year isn’t typical. My mother-in-law selected an Italian heirloom, with fruit about the size of a golf ball, that is recommended specifically for drying. Then she had to dig up the food dehydrator stashed in one of my closets to dry the first batch.
But a standard oven also will do the job. My newer models even have a preset “drying” function. If yours doesn’t, here’s a step-by-step:
Remove the stems from the tomatoes. Rinse them under cool water and pat dry. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Core them and remove the seeds.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomatoes, skin side down, on the pan. Preheat the oven to 200 F, with the rack in the center. Bake the tomatoes for about 8 to 10 hours for tomatoes about 3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Smaller tomatoes will take less time; check after about 6 hours. The tomatoes will shrivel to small, flat, leathery pieces about 1 1/2 inches long.
Store the dried tomatoes in the refrigerator or freezer for up to six months. Because their leathery texture can make sun-dried tomatoes hard to slice with a knife, scissors may work best.
Drying your own locally grown tomatoes, rather than purchasing them, is just one more way to celebrate Eat Local Week. Try them in the Detroit Free Press’ fancier version of my plain-Jane spaghetti. It’s ready in 30 minutes.
Spaghetti With Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
3 tablespoons real bacon bits
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup fat-free half-and-half
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup red wine
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
5 cups hot, cooked, whole-wheat spaghetti
In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion, bacon bits, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, for about 5 minutes.
Add the half-and-half, sun-dried tomatoes, wine, tomato puree and basil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove sauce from heat.
While sauce is cooking, prepare the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt.
Toss sauce with cooked pasta and serve. Makes 5 servings.