Ask someone to think of Spanish food and nowadays the chances are they will come up with tapas, the little dishes of Spain that started life as bar snacks, or perhaps with paella, a dish so complex and over-embellished in recent times that it’s quite unlike the original Valencian labourers’ dish of rice with water voles, rabbit, snails or whatever else they could catch. But to me the most Spanish of dishes and the one which I would never be without is sofrito; a simple sauce with all the colour and richness of Spain.
The basic recipe is simplicity itself and can be made cheaply at any time of the year…
- Olive oil
- 1 medium/large onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
- Pinch of sugar
Pour enough oil into a pan to cover the bottom and put over a low heat. Add the onions and cook for about 20 minutes until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and continue to cook gently until soft, taking care not to burn either the garlic or the onions.
Increase the heat and add the tomatoes and juice, a little salt and the sugar. Cook until the juice from the tomato has evaporated. The mixture should be fairly thick but if it gets too dry or if you require a thinner sauce, add a little water, tomato juice or wine.… and that is all there is to it.
If you wish you can cook chopped capsicum with the onions, add smoked paprika, chilli, wine, herbs or whatever other personal touches you feel like. I usually make a large batch and then freeze it in smaller containers.
It is not a sauce intended for serving as an accompaniment to other dishes, although it could be; it is rather one in which other things are cooked; here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Steam open mussels or clams in a little white wine, add sofrito and serve in bowls with crusty bread.
- Add lemon zest, white wine and parsley to the sofrito and use it as a sauce in which to bake chunky fish fillets. You can serve them hot or chilled.
- Bake prawn cutlets in sofrito with lemon zest and juice and some crumbled feta or similar cheese.
- Brown sliced chorizo in a small oven-proof pan, add sofrito making little hollows and breaking an egg into each. Return the dish to a hot oven and cook until the eggs are set and the yolks still runny.
- Add hot smoked paprika to the sofrito and pour over hot peeled and steamed potatoes to make Patatas Bravas.
- Brown lamb shanks then braise them in a casserole with sofrito and red wine adding black olives and cooked haricot beans for the last hour.
- Use sofrito as a base for ratatouille and other vegetable dishes.
- Sofrito makes a wonderful sauce for pasta, by itself or with meat or fish.
- Not Spanish I know, but sofrito is an idel tomato sauce for pizzas.
And so on… the opportunities to add the colour and flavour of sofrito are countless; as a boy, when my family lived in Spain, I would even have it spread on hot toasted bread for breakfast! And I still do…Viva Sofrito!!