The word soffritto has its origin from the Italian verb “soffriggere”: (friggere-to fry) to slowly fry ingredients, mostly vegetables, in a modest amount of oil. The basic ingredients of soffritto are: celery, carrot, onion and olive oil. It is not a dish by itself but it is instead used as a base for preparing many recipes like soups, stews, sauces etc.
When you’re cooking soffritto at home something magical happens, a deliciously sweet aroma is released in your kitchen (and other rooms of the house), the process of food metamorphosis through heat is beginning; your senses get stimulated, suddenly you have a desire to create, to cook.
The versatility and easy availability of soffritto ingredients make it a staple in a wide variety of recipes. You can find it in the preparation of many Italian dishes but it has a heavy presence in Tuscan cuisine. It is essential in the making of a good Bolognese sauce; it is not required but for sure enhances the flavor of a good florentine Ribollita and when used in making a tomato sauce it also helps to alleviate the tangy acidity of the tomato.
The soffritto is prepared as follows: peel the onion and cut it in half from top to bottom, cut each half in thin slices not cutting all the way through in order to keep the slices connected together, turn the sliced onion sideways and finely dice the slices.
Wash celery stalks and cut the dark edges off, cut each stalk in pieces 3-4 inches long, cut the pieces in thin stripes, turn them sideways and finely dice. Peel the carrot and follow the same procedure of the celery. Mix the three ingredients together and chop them as finely as the recipe requires it. Heat the olive oil in a pan (try not to make it smoke) and add the ingredients all at once stirring with a wooden spoon. Let everything cook on high heat and stir frequently. When it starts to loose volume you can lower the fire to a medium heat.
You will see the soffritto change color during the cooking process, from clear to light gold, all the way to dark bronze. You can use this as a measure of color grade of your dish. A darker soffritto will result in a darker dish, a light gold color is more appropriate for a soup with light color vegetables. Be careful not to make it too dark or it will add slightly bitter (burnt) flavor to your dish.
As for proportions I would give the onion the highest importance. You might ask: what color onions? Any color is fine; keep in mind that red is, well…darker!
Next week I’ll spill the beans on what “cooking” really means...