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This simple soffritto recipe is a must for most sauces, soups, stews in any Italian kitchen.
It’s not a dish in itself, but rather an essential flavor base quick and easy to make.
And this mixture of fresh diced vegetables and olive oil is the first step for any number of dishes. You’ve already seen this staple in many of my recipes, from this pasta e fagioli and pasta with lentils to this green lentil soup or white bean soup.
The key ingredients of soffritto – onion, carrots, celery – are often called holy trinity, though this definition is not common at all for Italians.
We just call it battuto, that’s before it’s cooked, or soffritto. This is the correct spelling, no sofrito :).
But let’s see exactly what I’m talking about.
What does soffritto mean?
Soffritto is an aromatic mix of diced onions, carrots, and celery gently cooked in olive oil or butter. In fact, the Italian word soffritto means “slightly-fried”, and describes the process of cooking these vegetables slowly until they release their flavor.
For this reason, soffritto is used to build up a depth of flavor and fragrance, and sometimes it includes other ingredients such as garlic, aromatic herbs, or wine.
What ingredients you need
- Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, or butter
- Garlic, white or red wine, herbs, spices (optional)
How to make soffritto
I’ve been making this soffritto recipe for ages, and let me tell you the truth: there’s no precision or perfect rules. I know, showing how to peel and cube your vegetables to perfection would sound more professional, but that’s not real life when we need to whip up a weeknight meal.
Honestly, most of the time some Italians don’t even use a chopping board or a chef knife, but they lazily chop the veggies over the pot while the oil starts shimmering. But that’s terrible advice if you’re not confident with all that chopping!
So please, when it comes to soffritto, make sure you use a chopping board, you handle a sharp knife carefully, and keep in mind a few simple rules:
The general rule requires onion, carrot, and celery with a ratio of 2-1-1 (it means 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery). But those rules are absolutely flexible, and I often use an equal portion of each, it works just fine.
2. How to cut the vegetables
Mince, chop, dice, finely dice, do whatever helps you to cut the vegetables into small pieces. Try to keep the same size, more or less, it will help to cook them evenly.
It’s hard to be a purist when you’re in a hurry!
Traditionally, the finely minced texture is achieved by using a “mezzaluna”, a double-handled curved knife that rocks back and forth (it doesn’t sound so handy, right?).
More realistically, I prefer to use a chef knife or even a sharp paring knife, and the whole thing takes seconds. Also, a manual chopper works just fine (and keeps your fingers safe!) or the pulse function of a food processor, but make sure you don’t turn the vegetables into a watery pulp: you don’t want any other liquid rather than the olive oil.
Just a quick note for busy cooks: it’s good to peel the carrots – I do that most of the time – but it’s also fine to skip this step.
3. Which fat to use
Use ONLY olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, or butter. In my opinion, not only is olive oil – or extra virgin olive – healthier than butter, but it’s also brilliant in terms of flavor.
4. How to cook it
A heavy bottom skillet, or a pot or pan with a non-stick bottom, are brilliant to saute’ the mixture over medium-low heat.
Cook the vegetables gently from a minimum of 5 minutes to a maximum of 20-25 minutes, take your time if you’re not in a hurry. You want to saute them until the onion is translucent and the vegetables soft or caramelized. But don’t fry them, let alone burn them.
Soffritto recipe variations
The classic soffritto recipe might vary throughout Italy, there are regional and personal variations which can incorporate additional ingredients:
- Garlic: its lovely aroma is brilliant with vegetables, fish, and legumes (except with peas). However, garlic is very delicate and burns easily, especially if it’s sliced or minced. Add it to the rest of the ingredients when the soffritto is nearly done.
- Aromatic herbs: fresh or dried rosemary, bay leaves, sage, or thyme are very popular in soffritto when you cook legumes or meat such as pork, beef, or chicken. Soffritto might include fresh chopped parsley sometimes, but never basil or mint.
- Meat: diced cube meat such as pancetta, guanciale, or bacon might be another flavorsome variation, very popular in some regions. Add them to the pot at the beginning, and reduce the overall amount of oil or butter.
- Wine: a dash of white wine or red wine delivers so much flavor and work so well with meat and legumes.
- Spices: fresh red chili or chili flakes are pretty popular, you can add them to soffritto at the beginning of the cooking process. Other spices such as paprika, cumin, or turmeric are not typical ingredients.
What’s the difference between soffritto and mirepoix?
They both require the same key ingredients and look similar at first sight, however, there’re a few differences.
The mirepoix is made by cooking diced onions, celery, and carrots slowly in butter or oil without browning or caramelizing them. The cut can be smaller or chunkier, it depends on the recipes, and the vegetables are often removed from the final dish before the end of the cooking process.
Soffritto requires the same ingredients, but the vegetables are finely minced or diced in small pieces, never in chunks. Then they’re cooked slowly until golden or caramelized and are part of the final dish.
Can you freeze soffritto mix?
Freshly made soffritto mix is always best, and so easy to make. However, you can certainly make a big batch of battuto (raw minced vegetables to use for soffritto) and freeze the rest in a freezer bag, definitely ideal for busy cooks. I do the same with my parsley pesto, another flavorsome kitchen staple that comes in handy.
Where to use soffritto?
Have a look at these hearty flavor-packed recipes, they make delicious and convenient vegan family meals that even non-vegans will love:
If you make this soffritto recipe or if you have any questions about its variations, let me know! Leave a comment, send me a message, or rate it.
I would love to hear from you!
Soffritto recipe, the Italian way.
- 1 medium-sized onion, peeled and diced
- 1 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 celery rib, diced
- 1-2 Tbsps olive oil, extra virgin olive oil or butter
- Wash the vegetables, peel onion, carrot, and trimmed the celery rib, and remove the leaves.
- With a sharp knife, mince or finely dice the onion, carrots, and celery. Try to keep the same size and make sure you use a chopping board and handle your knife carefully.
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet or in a pot over low to medium heat. 1 maximum 2 Tbsps of olive oil (or the same amount of butter) is enough. When the oil starts shimmering add the diced vegetables, and cook, stirring often.
- Adjust to low heat as needed, and continue to sauté until golden, it will take from a minimum of 5-7 minutes to 20 minutes, take your time.
- When the soffritto is nearly done you can add minced garlic, aromatic herbs, spices, or wine. Give a good stir, keep cooking for 1 or 2 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients according to the recipe you want to make.