Soffritto

Italian soffritto—similar to French mirepoix or Spanish sofrito—is a classic, simple mix of sautéed aromatic vegetables that jump-starts a slew of recipes from soups and stews to pasta sauces and Tuscan Ragù, My Way (page 63). Derived from the verb soffriggere, which means “to fry” in Italian, soffritto starts as a raw mixture of onions, carrots, and celery called battuto (from the verb battere), which means “to chop”). Low heat, unhurried cooking, and regular stirring turns a battuto into a soffritto in 35 to 40 minutes. The longer and slower the vegetables are cooked, the darker, nuttier, and softer they become, and thus the more complex the flavors in the final dish.

The key to soffritto is cutting the vegetables into the same size (use a knife rather than a food processor) to ensure even cooking. This recipe yields about three cups, but is easy to scale up (just use equal parts onion, celery, and carrots). I often double or triple the amount and store the cooked soffritto in the freezer.

And one last thing: Tuscan cooks prefer to use the inner, lighter-in-color stalks from a bunch of celery for their subtler flavor. The outer green ones have a stronger celery flavor and can overpower the other vegetables. Use whichever is most to your liking!

MAKES 3 CUPS
2 cups (500 ml | 440 g) mild extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (275 g) very finely diced white onions (about 1 large onion)
2 cups (275 g) very finely diced carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
2 cups (275 g) very finely diced celery (about 8 medium stalks— preferably the lighter, inner stalks)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
q.b. coarse sea salt and crushed Tellicherry black peppercorns

• Put the olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in a large skillet and stir to coat evenly with the oil. Place over high heat until the oil is hot and the vegetables start to fry, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, the celery has turned from white to a pale gold, and the vegetables are very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or set aside to cool, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tomato Sauce (SALSA DI POMODORO)

A simple homemade tomato sauce forms the heart of many Italian pasta, braises, soups, and other dishes. Instead of using canned tomatoes, I use passata di pomodoro, a puréed raw tomato sauce that has been strained of seeds and skins, for a sauce that is smooth, rich, and flavorful. Popular throughout Europe, passata is quickly gaining a following in North America—find it in specialty food shops in tall glass jars next to the tomatoes. If you cannot find it in your store, run pure canned tomatoes through a sieve or a food mill and discard the solids.

Contrary to popular belief, if you use quality ingredients, tomato sauce doesn’t need to take all day to cook. My family recipe takes under 30 minutes from start to finish. Cut the recipe in half or refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

MAKES 3 CUPS
¼ cup (60 ml | 57 g) medium extra- virgin olive oil
2 large white onions, finely chopped (about 2½ cups)
2 cups (475 ml | 454 g) passata di Pomodoro
6 sprigs basil
q.b. coarse sea salt and crushed Tellicherry black peppercorns

• In a large saucepan, combine the olive oil and onions and sauté over medium heat until the onions are transparent, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the passata and basil and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce has reduced by one-third, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and discard the basil sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or reheat before serving. Salsa di Pomodoro will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Arugula and Herb Pesto (PESTO DI ERBE)

MAKES 2½ CUPS
3 cups (100 g) arugula
1 cup (30 g) fresh basil and/or parsley leaves
1 cup (30 g) green garlic or ramps tops
q.b. fine sea salt
1¼ cups (300 ml | 275 g) mild extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish

• In a large mortar, start smashing the arugula, basil, and green garlic with the pestle one handful at a time (if it becomes too dry, add a little extra-virgin olive oil) until a very thick paste forms. Season with salt. Add the olive oil slowly, drop by drop, crushing constantly until combined and the pesto is creamy and thick.
• Transfer the pesto to a jar and cover with the remaining olive oil. If it’s not sufficient, top off with more olive oil until the pesto is covered under the oil. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Copyright © 2017 by Rolando Beramendi and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.