Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tomato Power

From This...

To This...

To This...

My love affair with tomatoes harkens back to my childhood. Wandering through my Uncle Jimmy's tomato patch with a Mason jar of iced water, a salt shaker and a lazy summer day stretching in front of me I was in tomato heaven. All I had to do was pluck a juicy, ripe beefsteak, find a comfortable seat and take that first bite. POW! Tomato juice dribbling down my chin, arms, fingers didn't stop me from now being able to sprinkle some sea salt onto that expectant inner flesh. With not a care in the world, I ate salted tomatoes and drank iced water, knowing even then that I was a lucky little girl! I would forever be a tomato lover in each and every form.

My first blog was about roasted tomatoes, a way to intensify their flavor and preserve their "shelf life." Lately my interest has been piqued by powders. It started with Matcha Green Tea powder that I have been cooking with and using as a condiment, but that is another blog. Point is, there is power in powder...concentrating its flavor in a condensed version. Bigger bonus yet, is that powder has an indefinite shelf life. So many options!

So, I saw Ruth Reichl make tomato powder on Diary of A Foodie. It made such perfect sense, seems relatively easy and just had a few steps. And so I embarked on another journey into the world of tomato preparation. The big difference between me and Ruth was that if I was going to tie up my oven at 175º for 5-6 hours, I wanted to end up with more than 2 Tablespoons of powder.*

You will need:

20-22 vine ripened tomatoes
Silpat or Super Parchment
Sheet Pans
A Food processor or spice grinder
A fine mesh sieve
An air tight container

Yield: 2.5 ounces or 70 grams*

The process:
You spread thin slices of tomato onto a lined sheet pan, place in a warm oven for 5-6 hours, turning once during the process until thoroughly dried, so that there is no stickiness when you touch them and they peel off the liner. If there is any moisture left in the tomatoes they will not process into powder. It's that simple, and can also be that hard.

Preheat oven to 175º
Line your sheet pan(s)
Slice tomatoes into 1/8" slices
Spread onto the lined sheet pan in a single layer

Place in oven for 5-6 hours, turning to make sure they are thoroughly dry, if not adjust the timing.

I found that on my sheet pans I could fit about 5 medium sliced vine ripened tomatoes. For this particular recipe/exercise I prepared about 20-22 tomatoes in two batches over a 14-16 hour period when I knew my oven was not in high demand. NOTE: When I finished the first batch, I placed them in the food processor bowl and let them sit while the second batch cooked. Big mistake! Once they come out of the oven, process as soon as possible because they will suck up moisture and get a little tacky. I had to return them to the oven for about 45 minutes to dry out again. That was a little annoying, but really doable.

This was the result of about 20-22 tomatoes:

I did not have any luck processing this into a powder with my spice grinder. Number one, there was way too much bulk and would have taken too many small batches. So I used my Cuisinart and pulsed it again and again until it reduced to a powder. It will never look totally fine at this point because it will have to be strained through a mesh sieve to remove seeds, cores, etc. When I was finished this is what the rough product looked like:

Then I passed it through a fine mesh sieve, and removed the "big pieces"

...and the remaining fine powder looked like this...

At this point I put it in a tight fitting jar to keep out moisture
Some things take patience, infinite patience and although this is an easy thing to do, it does require patience. As with most "easy" recipes, any wrong move in any one step screws up the results. Cut the tomatoes too thin and you lose too much, cut them too thick and they take a lot longer to dry. You have to work straight through, making sure the cooked tomatoes don't have a chance to reabsorb any moisture. Passing the processed product through the right kind of sieve yields the fine powder you want.

So now that I have tomato power, here is what I use it for:

Tomato Mayonnaise
Tomato Butter
Tomato Vinaigrette
Tomato Salt
Sprinkle on pasta
Add tomato flavor to soups
Home made pizzas

With the impending bounty of tomatoes that the summer yields, it would seem fitting that this is an ideal way to capture summer in a bottle. In much the same way my grandmother did when she canned and jarred vegetables many many moons ago. It is nice to have in my pantry. Truthfully, I am not sure that I would ever undertake this again, next time I will buy my tomato powder, it's not that expensive. By the end of the preparation, I felt like I was jarring saffron! It was one of those things that sounded like a good idea, and works, but I think the stress, labor, time involved is a bit pricey for me. Glad I did it, may never do it again! Looking forward to biting into juicy vine ripened beef steak, heirloom, Roma, cherry, grape, brown tomatoes all summer long!!!