Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Word of the week: soffritto

Our word of the week is soffritto, from the verb soffriggere, literally "to sub-fry." In broad terms, it refers to finely-minced aromatic ingredients (almost always including either onion and/or garlic) fried at low temperature in a fat, usually olive oil. The main purpose of the soffritto is to provide the flavor base for the dish by transferring the savoriness of the ingredients to the fat. The minced ingredients before frying are called a battuto. The soffritto is the cousin of the French mirepoix (in fact the celery-onion-carrot combo is so common in Italy that it is found for sale, frozen, in small boxes) and the Spanish sofrito.

This technique is used in pasta sauces, risotti, and soups, and is thus fundamental to Italian cuisine. I think, however, that it is underutilized in Italian cooking outside Italy itself. Take special care in using the small bits of garlic in a mixed soffritto, to avoid both undercooking and burning.