I can be particularly particular about particulars. Which can be particularly annoying. Especially in the kitchen. I’m working on these particular issues. But it’s not going particularly well. Take custard. Custard has a basic ratio: 3 eggs to every 2 cups of fatty liquid. It just does. But lots of cooks make custard using a different ratio, and sometimes they even call it by a different name – like flan. How is that possible? In my kitchen many of my favorite dishes have humble beginnings using a classic French technique known as mirepoix. But some cooks see this same pan of sauteed vegetables and say soffrito. How is this possible?
From France’s mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) to Germany’s Suppengrün (leek, carrot, celeriac) to the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking (onion, celery, green bell pepper), almost every cook in every culture starts with a simple, but balanced base of aromatic vegetables. To Mediterranean cooks soffrito is an onion-based building block. It can add an amazing amount of depth to a dish clandestinely.
In my particular way of looking at things a true soffrito is not easy to make. It takes hours and hours. You start by gently simmering onions and possibly carrots in oil. The vegetables stew at a very low temp for 2 or 3 hours until they release their cloudy liquid and begin caramelize. They come out a deeply intense caramel color and smell like heaven. But you can’t rush it. If there is much more than a few bubbles around the rim of your pan then your oil is too hot. Pureed tomatoes are added to the caramelized vegetables and the whole thing cooks another 2 or 3 hours. At which point the vegetable solids begin to fry and separate themselves from the oil. The cook strains the vegetables from the oil. The vegetables are the soffrito and the oil is liquid gold.
Needless to say it’s a rare day that a true soffrito comes out of my kitchen.
Snap Peas with Soffrito
So when I saw this recipe for Sugar Snap Peas with Soffrito, Hot Pepper and Mint from Gjelina chef Travis Lett, I thought to myself – that’s not a soffrito that’s a mirepoix. Which just goes to prove how little progress I’m making with my particular problem. GREG