Lesson 1: sofritto
Every great cuisine starts with a basic recipe of flavor — a sofritto, mirepoix, battuto, holy trilogy — are slight variations that create the base of many meals.
A French mirepoix is the best known classic. It combines 2 parts onion to 1 part each celery and carrot. These are sauteed together in butter without any browning to become the start to most French stews and soups.
An Italian battuto starts with a French mirepoix, but then adds fennel and/or garlic to add spice to sauces that need to spice up pasta.
Creole cooking combined the same 2 parts onion with 1 part celery and 1 part green pepper to form a Holy Trinity of flavors. These are cooked in butter or oil or even bacon fat to create the base of gumbos or jambalaya.
Latin and Caribbean cooking combines onion and peppers with garlic and cilantro for spicier combination. A sofritto is cooked in oil until the vegetables almost form a paste. It then can be used to create soups, but also can be added to ground meats, chicken and rice. This is a sofritto.
How to make a perfect sofritto.
Start with olive oil or rendered fat from pancetta or bacon. Add onions and peppers to hot oil and saute for several minutes until they soften and begin to darken (roast). The onions and peppers should be finely diced or even pureed in a food processor. As they saute, pay special attention to the color of the vegetables. The lighter the sofritto, the lighter the flavor. As the onion and vegetables darken, the flavor deepens. Be careful not to burn the vegetables as a roasted flavor brings out the sugars, but a burned flavor is bitter.
When you’ve achieved the color desired of your sofritto, add 1-2 cloves of garlic and remove from the heat. Let the heat of the vegetables and the remaining heat in the pan cook the garlic. Then add the fresh cilantro.
Sofritto is a great start!