Monday, February 9, 2015

How to Soffritto

Think Like a Cook Series

Cooking meats and veggies slowly in a pot on the stove or in the oven is a delicious way to make a meal. Especially in the winter time, these slow cooked stews are not only nourishing but comforting as well. This kind of cooking is perfect for stormy winter days .  You've got lots of time indoors and the smell of a stew cooking is a pleasure, filling the house all afternoon long.

Most stews start with a classic mirepoix or, in this case an Italian soffritto.  They are pretty much the same thing; sauteed onions, celery and carrots, but the Italian soffritto includes garlic.  Making a good mirepoix or soffritto requires a little patience, first in the chopping and then in the sauteing.  The finer the chop and the longer the saute, the greater the development of flavors.  With time, the sugars in the vegetables start to caramelize just a little bit, adding sweetness and character. And in fact, to get the kind of results where the onions and vegetables sort of melt into one beautiful, satisfying sauce, takes this kind of time.

Once you've mastered the art of a classic mirepoix or soffrito, you can apply the technique to just about any stew or soup.

To start your soffritto, pour about 3 tablespoons or so of olive oil into a stew pot and heat it over medium-low heat. Add in 2 chopped onions, about 3 inches or so chopped down from the top of a bunch of celery, 3 small carrots and 2 garlic cloves minced.  Make sure that the chopping is fairly fine on all of these.

Soffritto just starting to cook.  The chopping is fairly fine and there is enough olive oil so that all the veggies are fairly coated.  
Keep the flame on medium-low and cook the soffritto, stirring occasionally.  Let it soften and watch as the onions become translucent.  Be sure to stir regularly so that nothing sticks to the pan or becomes brown or burned.  The flame should be low enough that burning is unlikely.

Here the soffritto has been sauteing for about 30 minutes.  You can see the translucency and softening beginning.  
After an hour there is a slight caramelization and a melting together.  Now you are ready to add the liquids and meat. 

At this point you have your soffrito.  It's time to add the rest of the stew ingredients and then slow cook the whole lot over a low heat setting for several hours until you have tender meat and a cohesive sauce.  Try to avoid any boiling and find a perfect simmer.  Watch the pot with half an eye and stir the stew occasionally but mostly leave it alone and just let it become stew.  Enjoy the fragrance.

Beef Stew

3 T olive oil
2 onions chopped fine
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves minced
1 c red wine
2 14.5 oz cans organic stewed tomatoes 
2 empty tomato cans of water
2 lbs beef stew meat, grass fed organic, cut into one inch cubes
1 t dried Italian herbs
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, very generous to taste
1 T balsamic vinegar
Chopped flat leaf parsley

Make the soffritto as explained above with the olive oil, onions, celery, carrots and garlic, cooking it slowly and over a long period of time.  Add the wine, tomatoes. water, beef and herbs, cover the pot and allow the stew to simmer for several hours over the lowest possible flame.  The meat will toughen up and then relax.  The stew is ready to serve after the meat relaxes and softens.  You can test the meat by pushing on it with a finger to see whether it is tough or soft.  When ready, add the salt and pepper and vinegar.  Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve with brown rice and top with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley.  

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