Each cuisine has a version of a soffritto used as the base for soups, stews, and sauces. In Italian, it’s spelled soffritto and is derived from the verb soffriggere which means ‘under-fried’ or ‘fried slowly’. However, each culture has its own unique spelling, name, and/or ingredients for soffritto. For example, in Hispanic cuisine, you can find sofrito which often includes bell pepper. In Brazil there’s refogado. and the Dominican Republic has its own culture and different types of sofrito. In French cuisine, you’ll find mirepoix with a different proportion of ingredients.
What Is Soffritto
Soffritto is a combination of aromatics and vegetables that are slowly fried in cooking fat. Often times the fat used is butter and/or olive oil. Soffritto is used as the base for soups, stews, sauces, and more. It’s almost always the first step in the cooking process before additional ingredients are added.
What Is Italian Soffritto
Italian soffritto is traditionally composed of onions, carrots, and celery which are fried in extra virgin olive oil. However, the cooking fat may change from region to region. For example, in north Italy you find soffritto fried in animal fat and/or butter in addition to EVOO. In south Italy, where the use of butter is nearly considered illegal, you’ll find soffritto exclusively fried in extra virgin olive oil. However, there are pockets of south Italy where the used of animal fat is quite common. Customs change quickly and there’s no one right way to make soffritto.
We recommend using a high-quality extra virgin olive oil for soffritto. This is not the time to go cheap with the oil. Soffritto is the base of the dish, so you’ll be able to tell the quality of the products used. Remember, the job of extra vrgin olive oil is to fry the aromatics and vegetables, and when doing this the oil absorbs many of the flavors. It’s best to use and oil that compliments these flavors will help to transport each note through the dish and into each bite. If you feel inclined to use an animal fat we recommend guanciale or bacon because they have a high concentration of fat and provide another great layer of flavor.
While there may be a debate on the appropriate cooking fats for soffritto, most can agree on the base aromatics and vegetables used. The traditional ratio for Italian soffritto is 2:1:1; onions, carrots, celery. This does not translate to using 2 onions, 1 carrot, 1 celery. Realistically the proportion should be based on quantities of diced vegetables. However, you can (and should) adjust the ratios based on the desired amount of onions, carrot, and celery you enjoy in a dish. *Rules were made to be broken*.
Onions make a soffritto more aromatic and sweet, especially when cooked low and slow (re: carmelized onions). If you want more aromatics in your soffritto then add more onion. Note onions have a strong taste and can overpower a sauce. Onions will almost completely melt into a soup, stew, or sauce. The texture may thicken the sauce.
Carrots will make a soffritto more sweet. If you enjoy a little extra sweetness in beans, soups, or stews then add more carrot. Carrots tend to hold their shape pretty well in soups, stews, and sauces. This will add a bit of bulk to the dish, for soups and stews this can work very nicely. For ragù it’s recommended to dice carrot quite fine.
Celery will make a soffritto more fresh and earthy. If you enjoy a more subtle and delicate taste to soups and stews then add more celery. Celery also adds wonderful texture as it holds its shape very well. It will make soups and stews slightly more chunky.
How To Season Your Soffritto
Soffritto needs to be seasoned and the best way to do this is with fresh or dried herbs. Our favorites are fresh rosemary, fresh sage, dry fennel, dry bay leaf, and black whole peppercorn. We usually stick to two or three main herbs plus peppercorns, but there really is no right or wrong way to season soffritto! You should experiment with the herbs and flavors you like best. Also, don’t forget to experiment with toasting whole herbs and/or spices first. Some freshly toasted peppercorns or bay leaf can really pop things off.
The only requirement is to use enough herbs to season what will be an entire pot of delicious stew, beans, sauce, etc.
Adding Peperoncino (spicy pepper)
We sometimes add peperoncini to soffritto, it depends on the dish. For ragu we do not, however, for soups and stews we it’s fair game.
When To Use A Soffritto
Anytime you’re making a soup, stew, beans, or sauce you can use a soffritto! It’s the perfect way to get things started on the stove while finishing up chopping/grating/washing other ingredients. Also, while it’s easy enough to roughly dice the veggies and aromatics and throw them in a pot, if you need things diced extremely fine use a food processor.
Note: Sometimes using the food processor can feel like a pain, however, if quickly rinsed out immediately and set aside it will be very easy to wash with soap and water later.
Soffritto for beans can use (or skip) just about any aromatics, vegetables, and spices you have on hand. Don’t feel constrained to a traditional soffritto when making beans. This is the place to experiment or do a fridge clean. However, if you like your beans a little bit on the sweet side, consider adding a few more carrots. If you want things to be a bit more earthy and herbal use more celery and add sage. We don’t recommend adding any salt to soffritto for beans.
Ragù and Lasagna
A traditional soffritto is a must for recipes such as ragù all bolognese and lasagna. It provides a very strong base for sauces. For ragu we recommend an altered version of soffritto. It’s better to start with a fatty meat such as guanciale, before adding any vegetables to the pot. Cook the guanciale low and slow, allowing all the fat to cleanly melt off. Do not let the pot smoke, you want to do this very low and slow. Once almost all of the fat has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, and some extra virgin olive oil. A mix of meat and fats will build a super strong foundation for the sauce and make it taste more round.
A soffritto for soup is another great place to experiment. However, don’t overdo it. Soup, especially if its going to be pureed, has the ability to concentrate flavors. Choose two to three main veggies for the soffritto and then either cook the rest in a broth that’s used in the soup or add them diced into to the soup later.
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If you make this soffritto, please leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! We love to hear from you and do respond to comments. And if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Facebook and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!