Think of how often a dish starts with a sauté of onions, carrots, and celery. In Italy this combination is called soffritto. In France it is cooked with butter and called mirepoix, but for general purposes I like it cooked with a light flavored olive oil or even grapeseed oil, which is neutrally flavored, so I call it by the Italian name. I like to make soffritto in larger batches, removing some while it is still pale, or blonde, then cooking the remaining amount until it is a darker shade of amber, giving it a caramelized flavor. I sometimes cook it until it is quite dark, like tobacco, for a very deep, rich flavor.
I freeze soffritto in large zip-top bags. After filling the bags, I flatten them and expel any air, which makes it much easier to stack the bags the freezer. Later, I can simply break off the amount I wish to use. Some people freeze it in ice trays as you might pesto. However you store it, having soffritto in the freezer is like having a time machine. It can make having good tasting food on the table much quicker, or if you have several pans going at once it is quite helpful as well as it is easy to burn smaller amounts of onions.
I make some soffritto using carrots, and some using fennel bulb. Carrots and fennel are both sweet, but the carrots cook down sweeter and color the soffritto, while the fennel will give a noticeable fennel aroma and taste to the dish. I use a lot more fennel in summer, and I like it for a base. Sometimes I use both carrots and fennel. Remember, soffritto is a base, so depending on what you are cooking, you might add things like garlic, herbs, wine, finely diced tomato, mushrooms, peppers, etc. You can use it with garlic and herbs and extra oil as a base for greens, or you can add stock and mushrooms and use it to braise meat or vegetables. Add a dollop to cooked beans or grains to add depth of flavor on the fly, or use it as the base to a gratin of summer vegetables. I am sure you will find many uses for this time saver.
Although it seems like a lot of oil, if you use too little you run the risk of scorching the vegetables and you have to spend more time monitoring the pan. Plus, if you use more oil, you can strain it off before freezing the soffritto to use for cooking with. The flavors of the soffritto will translate to the dish you are cooking as an additional layer of flavor.
4 cups minced onion
2-3 cups minced celery
2-3 cups minced carrot or fennel bulb (or a mixture of both)
2-3 cups olive oil
You can use a food processor to mince all the vegetables except the onion. (Onions will simply liquefy in a processor or blender. Chop the onions by hand using a very sharp knife.) For the other vegetables, process until pieces are quite small, but be sure to stop before they start to liquefy.
Heat a large pan (preferably a sauteuse with high sides) over medium heat. When warm, add the oil. When the oil starts to warm, add the vegetables and stir to coat all the vegetables with oil.
Cook gently, stirring every so often to prevent sticking, until the vegetables turn a golden straw color. This can take up to 45 minutes.
When they are golden blond, the soffritto is ready. You can refrigerate or freeze it until needed.
If you wish to make a darker soffritto, remove the amount you wish to keep lighter and continue cooking until the soffritto is an amber color, or as dark as you wish. Remember, if you have a small amount in a larger pan you must be vigilant to prevent burning, so turn down the heat and keep an eye out, or transfer to a smaller pan and keep the heat low.
Keeps a week in the refrigerator or about 6 months in the freezer.
Chef’s Notes and Tips:
When storing in the freezer, I strain off the oil so the soffritto freezes better, and I get the flavored oil to cook with. You can make soffritto with less oil, but you need to be vigilant to prevent scorching. If you are cooking with less oil and the vegetables feel like they are sticking, add a shot or two of water to the pan to loosen things up. Be sure to stir more often.
For a classic mirepoix, the vegetables would be cooked in butter, or a mixture of oil and butter. Leeks might make a showing as well. Mirepoix can refer to the ingredients in the raw, whereas soffritto seems to always refer to the cooked preparation. Mirepoix would not contain fennel, and the traditional ratio for a mirepoix is 2:1:1-onion, celery, carrots.
YIELD: 4 cups
SOURCE: Chef Andrew E Cohen