Italian Soffrito

A couple of days ago, I received a shipment of 6 liters of the greenest extra virgin olive oil* that you have ever seen. It was from Toscana Saporita, the cooking school my wife and I attended in Italy on our honeymoon. The cooking school is held on a working olive orchard, and the primary output of the estate is olive oil. So people who attend the school get a chance every year to order oil, which we did.

The arrival of the oil reminded me of one of the big lessons of the school: the soffrito. Soffrito is a terribly misunderstood technique, primarily because people don't realize that it is a technique. Raised on cooking television where the mire poix and trinity are common, people figure that the soffrito is the Italian word for mire poix, and so the assumption is that the soffrito is carrots and onion and celery, or perhaps only two of those.

In reality, soffrito means "softly fried", and it's actually the Italian version of "sweating", or cooking aromatic vegetables at a low temperature. It's used in the same way mire poix is, by being a flavorful base to just about anything savory.

The difference between mire poix and soffrito is that it doesn't really matter which aromatic vegetables you use in a soffrito. If you are missing carrots that day, don't fret. Use some more celery! If you have peppers, throw those in. The proportions are not key, the specifics are up to what you have handy when you're cooking. It's Italian: relax.

The technique is basically the same, though. Dice the aromatics into roughly equal-sized pieces, add some salt, andcook over medium-low heat in oil (or butter; whatever) until the vegetables show signs of being cooked. The signs include some increased transparency, being soft, deepening of color, depending on the vegetable.

There ya go. If you're making a soup, throw this together at the beginning for better flavor. If you're making a braise, throw this together for better flavor. Stews, casseroles, sauces, etc etc. Go for it. Don't fret about the specifics, just make sure you have some sort of base, and your food and diners will thank you for it.

*- or, as the Italians call it, "oil."