Slice the small tomatoes in half from stem to stern, so to speak, and place them on the sheet with the cut faces uppermost. A plum tomato needs special handling. Rather than simply halving it, I cut it into quarter‑inch‑thick slices. And just as was the case with the small tomatoes, the cuts ran from the stem end to the stern. If you want to salt the tomatoes, now is the time to do so. Use a very small amount of coarse salt, and don't worry if some goes astray. Once all is in readiness, place the baking sheet with its cargo of sliced tomatoes in the oven. Use the middle rack. (Too many sheets to fit on one rack? Then stagger the sheets on several racks and swap them round after an hour or so.)
Now close the oven door — you shouldn't have to prop it open — and heat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Resist the temptation to check on progress until two full hours have passed. Too‑frequent checks only prolong the drying time. If the tomatoes are still noticeably juicy after two hours, however, you'll have to return them to the oven for a third hour. That should do the trick. How will you know? Easy. Properly dried tomatoes have the consistency of fruit leather. They're chewy without being either brittle or tough. Incompletely dried tomatoes can be eaten, of course. In fact, they're delicious. But they'll soon succumb to mold in storage.
In the first of the two photos below, I'm sprinkling coarse kosher salt on the tomatoes. The second photo shows how the tomatoes looked after being in the oven for three hours:
Looks good, doesn't it? And it tasted good, too: tangy, sweet, and toothsome. In fact, I had a hard time stopping myself from eating my way through the whole batch. I did manage to save a few, however, and once they cooled I packed them away in a ziplock bag, planning to use them as trail food on some future outing. But they didn't last that long. The future arrived sooner than expected. No problem. I just dried more. Which brings up one last question:
What Good Is a Dried Tomato?
Yes, they're great snacks, but that's probably not the best use for these tangy little treats. It's better to save them for pasta, rice, soups, and stews. Use them as toppings on skillet pizzas. Or add them to salads, if it's early enough in a trip for you to have other salad fixings. Or try any (or all) of the following:
Pasta and Dried Tomatoes Cook up a pot of your favorite pasta. (I like tortellini.) Drain off the excess water and stir in some dried tomatoes, along with olive oil, black pepper, and a generous helping of grated Parmesan cheese. If you like garlic (I do), add a couple of cloves (raw or sautéed in hot olive oil), chopped fine. Then, if you have Triscuits or garlic croutons in your food pack, crush some into coarse crumbs to use as a garnish. Pine nuts make a delicious garnish, too.
Chicken or Tuna with Rice Pilaf and Dried Tomatoes Make a batch of pilaf, adding anywhere from a quarter to one‑half cup of dried tomatoes to the rice about halfway through the cooking time. The tomatoes will absorb some moisture while lending flavor to the rice. Now stir in chicken or tuna from a can or a shelf‑stable packet when the rice is almost done. (NB If using canned chicken or tuna, be sure to include the juices.)
Instant Couscous and Dried Tomatoes This is a recipe sure to delight the hearts of "man cooks" everywhere. It only requires boiling water or broth, and it's ready in 15 minutes or less. Place water or broth in a pot, using a bit more than necessary for the amount of instant couscous you'll be making. Now add about half a cup of dried tomatoes to the liquid and bring to a boil. Next, add the couscous, then cover the pot and remove it from the stove, letting it sit for a few minutes before stirring and serving, with or without additions like diced cooked meat, dried fruit, nuts, or cheese.
Black Beans and Dried Tomato Tortillas Heat a shelf‑stable pack of black beans — canned beans work, too, though you'll want to drain them first — stirring a small handful of dried tomatoes into the pot while the beans are cooking. Add dried oregano, ground cinnamon, and dried cumin to taste. (You can also add grated cheese to the beans if you like.) Then, when the beans are hot, wrap in corn or flour tortillas.
Bagels With Dried Tomato Spread Mix a few dried tomatoes — chopped or whole — into a spreadable cheese. I like cream cheese, but you'll need to keep it cool, so it's for short trips only. Any soft cheese will do, however. Spread the cheese‑and‑tomato topping on bagel halves, toasting them first if desired. For a real treat, melt butter (either real or ersatz) in a skillet over your stove, and place the split bagels cut‑side down in the melted butter, leaving them on the stove till they're golden brown. Then top the browned bagels with your tomato‑cheese spread. This takes a little time to prepare, but it's worth it.
Scrambled Eggs and Dried Tomatoes Whether fresh or dried, scrambled eggs are as good at dinnertime as they are at breakfast. Just add some dried tomatoes after the eggs begin to thicken, stir, and heat till the eggs are done.
Frittata and Dried Tomatoes This is another variation on the eggy theme, in which a frittata pinch‑hits for the scrambled eggs. Chop some dried tomatoes into small bits and whisk into the eggs before cooking. Or use whole small dried tomatoes if you prefer.