Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Preserve a Bit of Summer by Drying Tomatoes, Freezing Herbs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Preserve a Bit of Summer by Drying Tomatoes, Freezing Herbs

Article excerpt

WITH ITS bounty of meaty red tomatoes, fragrant herbs, fresh green peas and more, summer could be a cook's favorite season. But for those who tend a garden or who can't resist bulk buys at the market, the peak season presents a problem: What to do with the surplus?

The solution: Use it or lose it.

The trick is, you don't have to use it right away. You can freeze, dry or cook up big batches of your bumper crops or market finds.

One couple we know oven-dries tomatoes. Another freezes herbs into "c igars" for year-round use. Here's how they invest a little time now to reap winter rewards.

Dill and basil "cigars": Each year, Phyllis and Bob Murray of Richardson, Texas, roll large bunches of basil and dill into logs, wrap them airtight in plastic, then freeze them for up to a year.

They have experimented with other preservation methods, but find their technique produces the best results. It keeps the air out better, holds its color better, and it's less work, Phyllis Murray says.

The Murrays cook with the herbs throughout the year, slicing off segments and refreezing the remainder. The flavor of the basil after freezing is fresh enough for pesto although the leaves may darken.

"Some years, when I can't get my garden dill to do what I'd like, I catch the one or two weeks when you can buy great bunches of fresh green dill at the market," she says. "I buy the feathery dill, not the kind for dill pickles."

Then the two get to work, stripping the feathery leaves from the stems, which connect the leaves to the "trunk" of the plant. The Murrays discard the trunks, but also freeze the stems in bundles.

"In the middle of winter when you can't get fresh dill, we boil shrimp with the stalks," Bob Murray says.

Roma tomatoes: When Edith and Jack Turnquist's tomato supply dries up, it's a good thing. They like dried tomatoes so much they'll spend a whole day drying pounds of Romas.

"It's incredibly easy," says Edith Turnquist. The only steps are to wash and slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a cookie sheet.

For first-timers, the hardest part may be knowing when the tomatoes are done.

"You want them really dried out," she says. "Not burnt or cooked, just dried." That could take anywhere from five hours to overnight in a 200-degree oven, the couple says.

It's worth the trouble to the Turnquists, who love the concentrated flavor that dried tomatoes lend to dishes such as pasta and sauces.

OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Slice clean, ripe Roma tomatoes 1/4-inch thick and place on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Place in oven for 4 to 7 hours, until dried. Watch tomatoes carefully to prevent burning; they should look dried and shriveled. If drying more than 1 cookie sheet of tomatoes at a time, switch oven racks to ensure even drying. Allow tomatoes to cool completely before placing them in glass jars and covering with tight-fitting lids. …

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