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What is 'soffritto'?
Soffritto is not a dish in itself, but rather the all-important foundation of many traditional Italian soups, sauces, stews, and braised dishes; it adds flavor, richness, and complexity. It appears in many different variations. Sometimes Italian soffritti might include garlic, parsley or other herbs or aromatics, and it might be cooked in butter instead of olive oil, but here we will cover the most basic and widespread version: simply finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion -- basically the... same thing as the French mirepoix, sauteed in olive oil. It should not be confused with the sofrito used in Spain and many Latin American countries, which often includes garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, paprika and other ingredients.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
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Gather and prepare your ingredients
The ratio is generally 2 parts onion to 1 part each of carrot and celery (for example: 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped carrot, and 1/2 cup chopped celery, which would roughly equate to: 1 small onion, 1/2 to 1 small carrot, and 1 stalk of celery), though sometimes I like to use an equal portion of each. Peel the onion and slice off the tip and root end. Wash, dry and peel the carrot, then trim off the stem end. Trim off base of celery and any leaves.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
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Finely chop the vegetables
(If you need some help with your knife skills: Step-by-step photos for carrot-cutting techniques.)Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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Mix your finely chopped vegetables together, then saute them in 1 to 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or pot over medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The vegetables should soften and reduce and the onions and celery should grow translucent. Though traditionally they are only cooked until softened ("soffritto" means "undercooked"), I like to take them longer, until they just start to brown (about 20 minutes) because that builds... up even more flavor in your final dish.
If I will be using the soffritto in a tomato- or beef-based dish, I often add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (doppio concentrato di pomodoro) once the soffritto is ready, and continue cooking until the paste is quite dark and thick, to really amp up flavor even more.
By adding some tomato paste, as just described, and then a couple of cups of tomato puree (passata di pomodoro), salt to taste, and simmering for about 30 minutes, you can make a simple, yet hearty, vegetarian pasta sauce known as "sugo finto" (literally, "fake sauce", so-called because it somewhat resembles a meaty ragù sauce in taste and texture)