Monday, November 7, 2011


Pasta with sofrito and chorizo.

I still have late-crop tomatoes ripening in the garden. I’ve been blanching, skinning and bagging them for the freezer—a great asset for winter’s soups and sauces. But today I was inspired to make a batch of  sofrito, some to use immediately and some to freeze.

Late-crop tomatoes from the garden.
Quite a lot of mystique accompanies sofrito, considered the “mother” of all sauces. Sofrito means “fried gently.” Sofrito is the first step in many recipes. It is, basically, a mixture of sautéed ingredients that gives depth of  flavor to many dishes in Spanish cooking, from paella to stew, vegetables to pasta. It’s a procedure, a technique and a sauce.

The essential ingredient in sofrito is olive oil. First, onions, garlic and green pepper are sautéed slowly in the oil. Then skinned and chopped tomatoes are added and allowed to reduce. Sometimes browning meat or chicken is part of the procedure. Sometimes the onions are allowed to nearly caramelize in the oil.

Peeled tomatoes.
Often the sofrito serves as a cook-in sauce, added to foods, usually with additional liquid such as wine, to continue cooking until done. In the case of shellfish, this is a matter of minutes, whereas stewing beef or lamb might take an hour or more and require additional liquid. Herbs and spices are added, depending on what is being cooked in the sofrito.

To peel tomatoes: Remove cores. Immerse the tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute. Drain and cool. Slip off the skins.
Chopped and ready to cook.

 If a larger quantity of tomatoes is used, the sofrito becomes tomate frito, a basic tomato sauce. It can be left chunky or sieved to make a smooth sauce. Chicken, pork or meatballs that have been first browned in oil are added to it to finish cooking. The sauce can be served over cooked pasta.

Tomato Sauce
Salsa de Tomate Frito

This is a basic tomato sauce that can be served as an accompaniment to cooked foods such as pasta or as cooking medium for foods such as meatballs (see the recipe for meatballs here). You can vary the flavor of the sauce by adding other herbs or by using smoked pimentón. Use the sauce chunky or puree it in a blender. If desired, the sauce can be sieved as well (removes all tomato seeds).

Makes 2 cups sauce.

Chunky tomato sauce.
3 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves chopped garlic
Sprig of parsley or oregano
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón (optional)
Pinch cumin
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion, peppers and garlic until onion begins to turn golden, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the parsley or oregano and red pepper flakes and pimentón, if using. Stir over medium heat 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, cumin, bay leaf, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until tomatoes are thickened, 30 minutes.

Use the sauce as is or puree in a blender.

Serve the sauce hot or room temperature.

 Penne with Sofrito and Chorizo
Macarrones con Chorizo

Pasta with chorizo and tomato sauce.

This is a wonderful every-day way to prepare pasta. Chorizo adds a flavor “package” to a basic sofrito. You can use either hard, slicing chorizo or soft cooking chorizo. Cheese on top is an option.

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced zucchini
1 clove chopped garlic
1 ½ cups diced chorizo sausage (6 ounces)
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Pinch of oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
½-pound package penne
Grated Manchego cheese to serve (optional)

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or cazuela and add the green pepper, onion, zucchini, garlic, and chorizo. Sauté on high heat for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, pepper, and salt. Cook until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes longer.

Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce. Serve with grated cheese, if desired.

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