Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So Delicious - Soffritto

For Christmas I received a couple of cookbooks - yes I am vaguely aware that for most women that might not be the best present but the giver in this case knows me well, and I found myself delighted as I tucked into "Salt to Taste" by Marco Canora - a beautiful volume of recipes  from Northern Italy.

The pages on basic broth and soffritto alone are worth the price of the book.  After reading a bit about the soffritto, I was fascinated and decided I had to try making it.  I've come to one conclusion - my life appears to have been incomplete until this point.  Naturally I had to share. I love aromatics.  I's official.

Soffritto is Spanish in origin, but appears to pop up in various Latino and Italian cuisines, and a couple of my wise ass Latina friends seemed surprised I'd never heard of it.  You guys have been holding out on me.  I'm talking to you YOU Lillian and Cassandra.

While there seem to be hundreds of variations, Salt to Taste covers a version which you could easily use as a base and alter depending on what you're making for dinner and personal taste.  As usual I winged it a bit but here's my version, based largely on Salt to Taste combined with a couple recipes I found online.

Stuff you'll need:

  • Large carrots 
  • Onions (I used sweet onions, Canora appears to have used red)
  • Celery 
  • Olive Oil

You need to mince stuff.  I mean a lot.  A lot a lot a lot.  the finer the mince the more flavorful the soffritto so this is no place to take shortcuts.  The recommendation is to use a knife, particularly for the onions, because if you're food processer blades are dull, the onion will get juicy and runny.  Not the goal.
This isn't minced enough yet...just a start. but you get the idea.

There are various suggestions on the ratio of onions to carrots to celery - I went with 2 cups of onion to 1 cup of carrot to 1 cup of celery and I'm loving the results.

In a fairly deep pan, heat about half a cup of olive oil over medium high/high heat - you're going to want to have enough in the pan to coat all of the veggies.  When the oil is hot, drop in all of your minced veggies - listen for the sizzle, you're aim is to fry the veggies, so keep the heat on the high side - I had to turn the heat down to a steady medium-high in order to see the steam come off the pan.

For the record, I wasn't buying this part - I thought there was no way I would be able to get soft caramelized veggies over high heat - boy was I surprised!

The sizzling veggies will release a bunch of steam - you want it to happen, apparently this is part of the trick.  Stir occasionally to ensure even heating and continue to cook until the veggies stop steaming.  If you've added enough oil and veg to the pan, this will take somewhere close to an hour.

Keep an eye on this now - once the steam heats off, things move quickly...

There are three levels of color you can target for the soffritto - blonde, amber and dark - I suspect this might be an Italian thing, as the various Spanish versions I found didn't mention any such differentiation.  The blonde is the palest with the crispest veggie flavor - you'd pull the pan off of the heat the moment the steam stops.  The amber has more caramelization to it - richer in color, and a bit sweeter.  Keep an eye on the pan because letting it go a bit longer will result in a dark soffritto - sweeter still, and a great light chocolate color.

Once you've got the batch to the color you like, make sure there's enough olive oil to cover, and put it in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge.  So far tonight, I've added a heaping spoonful to a quick version of a stewed beef ragu, and to the stock for a pot of slow cooked short ribs.  This is after I ate a spoonful or so as is.

You could add this anywhere you want to turn up the flavor - the aromatics in the mix enhance all manner of sauce, stew and soup.  That is if you don't just snarf it down as it is...


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