Summer – here in full force and the vegetables are gorgeous. Now and in the next short months before summer’s gone is the time to think about Sofrito….why you ask? Because Sofrito, a blend of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and garlic, cooked down to a rich, thick sauce, uses so many of the gorgeous vegetables that are at their peak in the summer. Think of it as a concentration of summer’s flavor – and it keeps in the freezer amazingly well for months.
Sofrito is the backbone of a wealth of classic dishes from a number of cuisines, but a bit added to all kinds of foods can go a long way to adding a bit of vibrancy and depth of flavor. If you have Sofrito, portioned in Ziploc bags in your freezer, you have summer’s bounty preserved and the ultimate convenience item to flavor your everyday cooking – it’s every bit as good in a meatloaf as it is in Paella! It’s a wonderful “Spanish” sauce in an omelette, its fantastic in a Mexican rice dish, it’s a condiment – its uses are nearly endless. Making something that needs tomato paste? Try a little Sofrito instead.
A lot of us think of Sofrito in conjunction with Latin American cuisines, but Sofrito is used also in Spanish, Mexican, Dominican, Columbian, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Carribean, Cuban, Columbian and Haitain cooking – and I’m sure they’re others. And guess what? They are all slightly different depending on what’s available in the region and where the influences came from. (Some are even uncooked – bonus for you if that’s the kind of Sofrito you want to make!)
I’m going to talk about a basic cooked Sofrito, using what I have available in my area. Now, a purist might say, “Oh, a REAL Sofrito uses this kind of pepper, or this kind of whatever, or always has this or never has that.” “No one from such and such a place would make a Sofrito like that.” And I’m not saying that’s wrong – there may be certain dishes that you’ll want to make with a Sofrito that’s tailored to the area and the particular dish. There are always times you want to replicate as best you can the original flavors and ingredients.
I’m just saying, forget about it – someone in Spain decided to add tomatoes and peppers to their Sofrito when they became available from the “New World.” Someone in Cuba makes their Sofrito with the items grown their area. Someone from Mexico married someone from Venezuela and their great grand-daughter moved to America – and makes hers differently.
Every country, every region adapts to what we have available, and that’s what’s best, freshest, and local. And that’s what makes for the wonderful variations and flavors in the food we have today. As a matter of fact, I want you to make your Sofrito using what you have and what you like! If you make certain dishes using a certain Sofrito, make that version. Adapt away!
Keep in mind, If you have a basic sofrito portioned in your freezer, you can add all the special little touches and flavors when it’s time to prepare your dish. You’ll have the basic building blocks for your dish ready in the moment it takes to thaw on the counter or in the microwave. Think of the time you’ll save when you want to throw together something after work for dinner on a Tuesday night or the last minute hassle of running to the store avoided when you look in your fridge and think: “There’s nothing to eat!”
Basic Sofrito: makes about twelve 1/2 cup portions
- 1/2 cup Olive oil
- 2 large Spanish Onions or several smaller onions
- 4 to 6 Peppers of the Green Variety – Bell, Cubanelle, Italian
- 2 to 3 Red Peppers (if you have Ajices Duces in your area, and are thinking about a Mexican Sofrito, you can use 8 to 10 plus one red pepper)
- 1/2 head Garlic – 10 cloves or so
- 8 tomatoes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
- Salt – optional. (You may want to add salt now, if you wish, or wait until you’re ready to make your final dish.)
All vegetables should be chopped into about 1/4 inch dice. Use a food processor for this to speed things along – just roughly chunk and process each type individually (that way, you don’t have the problem of a softer vegetable turning to puree before a harder vegetable is chopped.)
You can roast and peel your peppers if you’d like to, but that really depends on if you want the smoky flavor in your sofrito. Some dishes rely on it for flavor, and others don’t.
In a very large, heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Add the red peppers and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes or until peppers are turning a bit golden. Add garlic and cook until the garlic is cooked through; be careful not to burn. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is thick and jammy. (See below)
If my tomatoes are a little weak in flavor, I’ll add in the tomato paste just to boost it up a bit.
I often find when I’m cooking this larger amount, the vegetables give off so much liquid I’d be cooking them forever to concentrate them. Here’s what I do: I remove the vegetables using a slotted spoon to a colander over a bowl. I then let them drain for about 15 minutes. I then heat up my pan again, very hot, and add in the liquid. When it’s cooked down (which takes very little time) I add in the vegetables, a large spoonful or two at a time, stirring now and then until the liquid is nearly gone. I just keep repeating and in a surprisingly short amount of time, ten to 15 minutes, I have a deep, rich, jammy sofrito. If there is liquid left in my bowl, I just make a well in the sofrito in the pan and add it in and let it simmer off. (You can always add a little more liquid when you are ready to use it.)
Let your sofrito cool and portion out into Ziploc bags, 1/2 cup is a good size portion or in ice-cube trays and freeze.
When I portion, I like to label all my bags and open them up first. I then take a half cup measure and scoop out portions on a sheet pan or plate. It’s easy then to take a large spoon and drop the sofrito into the Ziploc with very little mess or hassle. Each bag gets shaken down, rolled and sealed. When I’m done, the all go on a sheet tray, flat, and I freeze. After they’re all hard, I “gang” them up into a large Ziploc so I’m not searching through my freezer for them.
Sofrito thaws very quickly, and I often add it to dishes frozen. Sometimes, if I just want a little bit, I’ll remove it from the Ziploc and chop off the amount I want to use.
I often put a little Sofrito in my Ratatouille, or in any number of soups, stews, bean dishes and casseroles. If a recipe starts out saying to saute onion and bell pepper and has tomatoes in it, I’m already thinking: Sofrito. Each 1/2 cup packet contains approximately 3/4 cup of tomato, 3/4 cup of peppers and 1/3 cup of onion.
Here’s one of my favorite dishes that relies upon Sofrito: White Bean Ragout on Toasted Garlic Bread. (As a matter of fact, the instructions actually suggest you make a little extra sofrito – but if you have sofrito on hand already, you can just skip that whole process.)
- Paella and the Reclamation of Youth (tartlittlepiggy.com)
- Sofrito Bean Soup – a Burwell General Store Recipe Swap (thedustybaker.com)/4