Upgrading your sauces, stews and braises couldn't be simpler thanks to an ingredient trio called "soffritto." Soffritto is a mixture of cooked onions, carrots and celery you can prepare in advance and then incorporate into dishes as needed. This saves the step of chopping and satuéeing the veggies later on, especially when you're in a hurry to cook dinner. Plus, freezing soffritto in an ice cube tray creates “flavor cubes” you can easily pop into dishes to infuse them with an aromatic taste and chunky texture! Keep reading to learn how to make soffritto and why it will become your go-to ingredient for savory dishes.
What is soffritto?
Soffritto consists of chopped onions, celery and carrots that are slowly sautéed until soft and tender, creating deep flavors. While this veggie medley is the foundation for many hearty dishes, its roots stem from Italian cuisine. In fact, the name means "slightly fried" in Italian. Once cooked, the mixture is often cooled and stored for later use. But, you can use it right away by stirring in seasonings and/or liquids to start developing those sweet and aromatic flavors within the dish. It's perfect in thick pasta sauces like bolognese or rags, braised meat dishes, chunky soups like minestrone, and all sorts of stews.
Note that it differs from another sauce base spelled "sofrito" — a staple in Latin cooking that contains tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell peppers and other ingredients. A big batch of soffritto goes a long way for making your savory meals extra delicious for weeks and even months to come.
How to make soffritto
A standard soffritto uses a ratio of 2 parts onions, 1 part carrots and 1 part celery to create a pungent and aromatic base for sauce-based dishes. Here's a general guide on making soffritto courtesy of Marco Perocco, chef and cooking instructor at Marco's Kitchen.
Perocco suggesting dicing the veggies so they're all ¼-inch in size, which helps them cook evenly.
1 cup diced white or yellow onion
½ cup diced and peeled carrots
½ cup diced celery
Extra-virgin olive oil
Total time: 25 mins
Yield: 1 batch
Heat layer of oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add veggies in single layer, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When veggies are softened and golden brown, remove mixture from heat and cool to store for later. Or proceed with making rest of dish.
Bonus secret to delicious soffritto
Adding herbs, garlic or other seasonings is a great way to enhance your soffritto's flavor. And for an extra savory touch, Marino Cardelli, founder and culinary enthusiast at Experience BellaVita, opts for an unexpected ingredient: anchovies. “Something unique that my grandma does for some dishes is to add one anchovy at the end and let it dissolve into the soffritto,” he says.
Worried it will taste fishy? Don't be! “The anchovy adds an extra layer of flavor, a subtle hint that transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary,” Cardelli says. Incorporate the anchovy fillet during the last minute of cooking for rich and salty flavors you'll taste in the final dish.
Making and storing soffritto in advance
Prepping soffritto ahead of time deepens the flavors within the veggie mixture and saves you time in the kitchen. Below, recipe creator Lauren Allen, founder of Tastes Better from Scratch, shares tips for storing soffritto once it's cooked and cooled. Plus, she reveals how to use it in dishes.
Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up tp 1 week. An easy way to cook with refrigerated soffritto is by using ¼ to ½ cup in place of 1 small or medium onion in the recipe. Stir the soffritto into the sauce, stew or braising mixture before continuing to cook the dish over direct heat.
Spoon the soffritto mixture to the individual pockets of an ice cube tray and freeze for 2 to 3 months. Then, place your desired amount of frozen soffritto cubes straight into a dish just before simmering, braising or slow-cooking it. Although tray sizes vary, use around 5 to 6 cubes in place of 1 onion.
2 tasty recipes that are perfect for using soffritto
Since soffritto is an easy add-in to dishes, our test kitchen shares their top two recipes for using this veggie trio as an instant flavor enhancer — so speedy yet so scrumptious!
Vegetable Pasta Soup
Crushed fennel seeds are the secret ingredient that give this slow-simmered bowl of mmm even more irresistible flavor.
1 (10 oz.) russet potato, diced
1½ to 2 cups soffritto (in place of 1 onion and 2 carrots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
6 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
1 (15.5 oz.) can navy beans, rinsed, drained
¾ cup small pasta shells
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Active: 20 mins
Total time: 4½ hrs
Yield: 6 servings
Place potato, soffritto, garlic, fennel seeds and thyme in bottom of 4-quart slow cooker. Add chicken broth. Cover; cook on high until vegetables are tender and flavors blend, about 4 hours
Add beans and pasta. Cover; cook on high until pasta is al dente, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in olive oil, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. If desired, garnish with fresh herbs.
Beef Ragu with Linguine Pasta
A budget-friendly cut of meat turns fall-apart tender and extra irresistible, thanks to canned tomatoes seasoned with garlic and herbs.
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, 1 can drained
⅓ cup tomato paste
1½ lbs. boneless chuck steak, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
½ cup soffritto (in place of 1 medium onion)
2 bay leaves
12 oz. linguine pasta
⅓ cup shaved Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
Active: 25 mins
Total time: 1 hr, 30 mins
Yield: 6 servings
To make in an Instant Pot:
In bowl, combine tomatoes and paste; reserve. Coat 6-qt. Instant Pot insert with cooking spray. Select sauté; set to high. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. In insert, in batches, cook beef, turning, until browned, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove. Select cancel. Place soffritto, beef, reserved tomato mixture and bay leaves in insert; stir until combined. Close and lock lid; set pressure release valve to closed. Set temperature to high; set cooking time to 45 minutes. When finished, wait 10 minutes before releasing pressure.
Bring large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta. Cook according to package directions for al dente; drain. Transfer beef mixture to pasta pot; shred meat. Add pasta; toss until combined. Top with Parmesan and parsley.
To make in a slow cooker:
In 6-quart slow cooker, combine tomatoes, paste, soffritto and bay leaves. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper; add to cooker.
Cover; cook 8 hours. Cook pasta; continue with recipe as directed above.
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