The kitchen aroma I remember most fondly is the one that drifted through the house when my mother sautéed onions, carrots and celery. It was heavenly and the prelude to Thanksgiving turkey dressing. Sometimes it was the beginning of a sauce or soup. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was composing what Italian cooks call a soffritto—a medley of vegetables cooked in butter, oil, or fat and used as a flavor base.
The French have a similar combination called a mire porix (meer-pwah) made of two parts onions to one part each of celery and carrots. Nearly every European country has some form of the flavor combo. Cooks of cajun or creole cuisine often refer to the mixture as the Holy Trinity. The medley includes green peppers and garlic along with celery and carrots as the beginnings of a fine gumbo, jambalaya or étouffée.
Variations allow for swapping onion for leeks or shallot, adding garlic, or aromatics such as parsley, thyme or rosemary. Fat might take the form of bacon grease, pancetta, diced ham or bacon.
There’s a couple of way to cook a soffritto. A light version is achieved when the vegetables are cooked fast for use in a poultry stuffing or soup. But long, slow cooking caramelizes the vegetables and deepens the flavor when added to a sauce. Caramelizing takes 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables take on a tannish color.
A soffritto is a building block. It’s not meant to be used alone—though spread on a baguette, it’s mighty tasty. Chef and food writer Erika De Mane says: “I find that a well turned out soffritto does amazing things for canned tomatoes.” How true! The simple threesome performs wonders in kitchens around the world everyday. Below are a few recipes that I use regularly that begin with a soffritto.
Starts with a Soffritto
All these wonderful dishes start with a soffritto.