Soffritto is an awesome way to flavor your cooking with ease. I love having a couple soffrittos on hand in the fridge just in case I am in a pinch. They really come in handy. They can take a little time to prepare, but once they are prepared, they last a long time, and they are delicious. Every culture has their own types of soffrittos, whether they call them as such or not, but the mother of all sofritos is the Spanish sofrito
History of Sofrito
The word “Sofrito” is a Spanish term that translates to lightly fry over low flame. This dish goes back to early Spain, more specifically, Catalan cuisine. The first reference to sofrito documented was in the Libre de Sent Soví. This was one of the oldest European cookbooks dating back to the 14th century, specifically 1324, which name means The Book of Sent Sovi. This book outlined some of the medieval cooking recipes and techniques during that time, one of which was the sofrito.
Going back in time sheds light on the early years of the sofrito, or “sofriegit” from the verb “sofrier”. This ancient recipe features some familiar ingredients and some not so familiar when it comes to sofrito as we know it today. This recipe utilized ingredients like leeks, onions, and salt pork. Oddly enough, meat has generally worked its way out of this recipe during its later years.
As time progressed, the dish became more popular and accepted more ingredients into its repertoire. Spanish colonists brought it to the new world and ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and spices were added. The appeal of this dish was how flavorful it could be and its ease of use. The technique was adopted and customized by all of the people it touched until everybody had their own understanding of sofrito.
Today you will find sofritos of all shapes, sizes, and colors. You can try a Puerto Rican green sofrito or a red Cuban tomato sofrito. You may lean towards the vegetable heavy, olive oil based Italian sofrito. You could come across a sofrito recipe that utilizes capers and black olives. In France, their form of sofrito is referred to as “mirepoix”, while Portugal offers the refogado. This recipe has even found its way to the Philippines, where it goes by “ginisa”.
The names and ingredients changed over time. Those are not the only thing that changed with time though. The way the dish is used has evolved to. We are not just making sauces with this flavorful ingredient anymore. Now this dish is used for a wide variety of ingredients and recipes of their own. We will get there in time. For now, let us look at the Spanish Sofrito and Italian Soffritto/Battuto.
What is a Sofrito?
A sofrito, given the particular spelling, is a Spanish preparation that is used to enhance flavors in recipes. It usually consists of onions, pepper garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and spices. These vegetables and aromatics are cooked down until caramelized and sweet. This process is usually done over a long period of time and is cooked in a large amount of oil.
Sofrito is used to add depth of flavor into many different dishes in Spanish cuisine. It is also often used as a braising style sauce, in which additional liquid is added to cook seafood, meats or vegetables. If a larger quantity of tomatoes is added, then this becomes a basic sofrito sauce.
The Spanish sofrito may showcase other unique ingredients that separate it from other. Items found in sofrito that are not common would be ingredients like green beans, lima beans, or possibly saffron.
How to Make Sofrito?
Cooking sofrito requires patience and basic technique. It really is not a recipe to be rushed because is gets all of its flavor from a time-based cooking.
The one, most necessary, ingredient in the Spanish sofrito is olive oil. For the most basic procedure, olive oil is heated in a cazuela (shallow unglazed earthenware) or frying pan. Chopped onions, and sometimes peppers, are added and fried slowly until lightly golden. Peeled and chopped tomatoes are added next and fried hard for the next few minutes. The mixture is then cooked down considerably, usually at a simmer or even lower temperatures. Seasonings like salt, pepper and other spices quickly follow.
This process outlines the most basic of Spanish sofrito recipes. This does not mean that it is not flavorful, because it is. What I am saying, is that this is only the beginning of the sofritos journey. The sofrito is now ready to be used to flavor other recipes!
How to Use Sofrito
A sofrito has so many uses it may be easier to list how it should not be used, if I could think of any. I am going to list some traditional and non-traditional ways to use sofrito.
Use a sofrito as the base braising liquid for larger vegetables or meat substitutes. You can braise vegetables like whole squash, onions, brussels sprouts, cabbage, nuts, greens, etc. You can also braise meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and what ever else you want.
You can add this sofrito recipe to a soup you are making to enhance the flavor of the soup. You can either start the soup itself with making the sofrito, or you can add a finished sofrito to the soup any time after. Once the sofrito is made you have options on when to add.
If you did not know, the secret to a great paella is the sofrito. Start by frying your paella vegetables slowly in oil to develop their flavor. Then toast your rice in the pan with the vegetables and oil. Then your tomatoes go in and begin to cook down. You then carryout the dish by cooking the rice in wine, stock, etc. As the rice cooks, it absorbs the flavor of the sofrito.
Sofrito sauce is absolutely delicious. Simply take your sofrito and add more tomatoes to it. The tomatoes can be pureed for a smoother sauce or they can be chopped for a thick chunkier sauce. If you are not feeling the tomato sauce that day, you can use a non-dairy milk or vegetable stock to sauce it up. Personally, I do not need a lot of sauce on my food, so I just use the sofrito base itself as a sauce. You can use this sauce on vegetables like beans, peas, broccoli, squash, etc. I personally like using this recipe on rice, cous cous, or quinoa. Sofrito Sauce is also super delicious on pasta! Just saying.
I have used sofrito in a bunch of different ways and I do not want you guys to judge me, but these are just so dang good! I have ground mushrooms and cooked them with Spanish sofrito and made an empanada filling with them. And those empanadas were awesome. I have also woken up in the middle of the night and made a naan bread sandwich with white bean hummus and Spanish sofrito. Now come on, you know that sounds good. I have even dehydrated a sofrito and used it as a garnish in a restaurant, but that may be a bit too much for home use. What I am getting at is, use your imagination. You cannot go wrong with sofrito.
Spanish Sofrito Tricks and Tips
Cooking sofrito can be very technical at times so using the right equipment for the job not only makes it easier, but it also makes it taste better. How does the type of pan you use make food taste better? Oh, do I have news for you. I would recommend using a cast iron. The reason being, it is easy to turn a cast iron pan on low and maintain the heat consistently. Due to the thick nature of cast iron pans, the heat is very stable and is evenly distributed on the bottom of the pan.
So how does this make the sofrito taste better? Once you find the sweet spot of the super low cooking temperature for sofrito, you can really drag out the cooking process. Typically, the longer the sofrito goes, the better. If you do not have access to a cast iron, the use a heavy bottomed pot or pan.
It is important to prepare the vegetables in a similar fashion. To ensure the vegetables all cook at the same speed, they need to be cut in the same shapes and sizes. This will also help with precision. If you know all your vegetables are cooked the same, it will help you achieve your goal for your application.
Most people that make sofrito will tell you the key is proper proportions between the ingredients. You are going to want to stay around 1 part onion to 2 parts tomato. If you are adding other vegetables, then that is no problem. Keep the other vegetables in between ½ part to 1 part.Its best not to exceed the amount of onion. Unless the sofrito you are making is specialized in a particular vegetable.
Canned or Fresh
A big part of the tomato sofrito is obviously what kind of tomatoes are you going to use. Both types of tomatoes are fine. Depending on how I am using the sofrito I can go either way on this subject. I am going to tell you how to do both.
For canned tomatoes, you will need a to find a way to get the tomatoes fine enough, so you do not have giant chunks of tomatoes and small diced vegetables. One way to achieve this goal is to process the canned tomatoes in a food processor. You can use the pulse function to still get the desired chunkiness.
You can also cook all the ingredients first then use a food processor. I do not like this method really, because you lose the diced vegetables when you do this. A lot of people turn to the food mill or ricer. The reason I chose using the ricer after the sofrito is cooked over the food processor is the ricer still gives you a consistent product with a nice pulp or chunkiness.
There are two stages that require close attention during the cooking process of this recipe. Other than that, it is pretty much a set it and forget it.
The first stage is the initial simmering. You want to make sure the heat you set is nottoohigh, so you want to monitor the initial simmer until it is at a comfortable temperature for a good sofrito (which is super low)
The second stage is after you add your tomatoes. This stage will require stirring from time to time because the tomatoes tend to burn to the bottom of the pan if left alone.
The best thing about sofritois that is lasts a long time in the fridge. I have had one for up to two weeks! I doubt you will have one long enough to go bad, I mean this recipe goes with pretty much anything. Store this recipe in the fridge for up to 1 week, maybe more.
- 1 cast iron pan or heavy bottomed saucepan
- 1 wooden spoon or rubber spatula
- 1 chef knife
- 1 cutting board
- 1 cheese grater or food mill
- 1 microplane
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
Yields: 1 Qt
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour
- 1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 ½ Large Yellow Onion, peeled and small diced (about 3 cups)
- 1 Medium Green Bell Pepper, cleaned and small diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 Medium Red Bell Pepper, cleaned and small diced (about 1 cup)
- 5 Medium Plum Tomatoes, grated and remove skins (about 1 qt)
- 4 Clove Garlic, microplaned
- ½ tsp Salt
- ½ tsp Sugar
- 3 Medium Bay Leaves
- 1 tsp Sweet Pimenton
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or cast iron over low heat. Once oil is hot, and your onions, bell peppers, and garlic and slowly start to fry the vegetables in the oil. Add you salt and sugar in with the vegetables.Make sure they are not cooking too fast; they should be barely cooking.
2. Once the diced vegetables are caramelized, they should be brown in color but not burnt, add the tomato pulp (with juice), the bay leaves, and sweet pimenton. Then turn up the heat to a medium low flame. Cook this mixture for 20 minutes or so until the tomatoes are completely broken down. The sofrito should have some oil separated on the top.
3. Remove pan from the heat andremove the bay leaves. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 1¼ Hour
- ¼ Cup Olive Oil
- 1 Large Yellow Onion, Minced
- 4 Clove Garlic, Minced
- 1 Medium Anaheim Pepper, seeded and minced
- ¾ Cup Red Wine
- 2 28oz San Marzano Tomatoes, processed or ground or 10 Fresh Tomatoes, diced/grated
- 3 Sprig Thyme
- 1 Tbsp Sweet Pimenton
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or cast iron over low heat. Once oil is hot, and your onions, Anaheim peppers, and garlic and slowly start to fry the vegetables in the oil. Add you salt and sugar in with the vegetables. Make sure they are not cooking too fast; they should be barely cooking.
2. Once the diced vegetables are caramelized, they should be brown in color but not burnt, add the red wine. Reduce the red wine until it is almost completely gone.
3. Now add the tomatoes, thyme, and sweet pimenton. Reduce the heat back to low heat. Slowly cook this mixture for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Once done cooking, the sauce should be a rust color with a glossy coat. Remove the thyme sprigs and season with salt, black pepper, and sugar.
1. Can you freeze sofrito?
Yes, sofrito freezes really well. This is one of those recipes that actually makes sense to freeze in an ice cube tray. You do not need to thaw out sofrito too…. You can just put in sauce or soup from frozen.
2. I do not like chunks of vegetables; can I blend a sofrito smooth?
Sure, you can. You can either blend the ingredients before or after you cook them. I would recommend blending after.
3. Every time I make sofrito it turns out differently, why is that?
Honestly, that is not uncommon. The reason you will see slight differences in sofritos, even if you use the same recipe, is because of how many variables there are in the recipe. Let us say you sauté the onions for 5 more minutes than the last time, well then it will be a little different. Even if you timed yourself on each step, there would still be minute differences due to freshness, moisture content, and types of your vegetables.
4. Can I precut the vegetables? If I do not have time to cook the sofrito today?
Precut vegetables are a great way to plan ahead for your sofrito. The idea is to keep them fresh though, so I would not cut them to early in advance 1-2 days in the fridge is ideal for precut vegetables.
5. I like spicy foods. Can I change the bell peppers for something hotter?
You definitely can. Be careful, cooking down peppers will concentrate their spiciness.
Mendel, Janet. “Sofrito.” Foods & Wines from Spain, ICEX, 2020, www.foodswinesfromspain.com/spanishfoodwine/global/training/cooking-techniques/cooking-technique-detail/REC2017736604.html.
Han, Emily. “Sofrito: A Foundation of Latin American and Caribbean Cuisine.” Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, LLC., 2 May 2019, www.thekitchn.com/sofrito-a-foundation-of-latin-american-and-caribbean-cuisine-176184.