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Soffritto - Traditions and Innovations in Tuscan CookingOrder "Soffritto" today!

SOFFRITTO - Tradition & Innovation in Tuscan Cooking

by Benedetta Vitali
Ten Speed Press, 2001

Soffritto - the starting point of Tuscan cooking - well, maybe not for desserts, but surely a properly made soffritto is the base of many soups, sauces and stews in the Tuscan kitchen. Literally, soffritto means "under fried".  Not to be confused with the Hispanic version of soffritto which includes green peppers (also a base for many Hispanic dishes) , the Tuscan soffritto is simply minced onion, carrot, celery and cooked and browned in extra virgin olive oil.  The mince is best achieved by using your knife skills and not a food processor which will just squash the onion and result in a mush which you don't want.  What makes soffritto so important in Tuscan cuisine?  It's the degree of browning the soffritto that determines whether it is best for a sauce, soup or stew.  The details of which you can only get from reading this beautiful cook book.

Soffritto the book, is more than just a book of recipes. Benedetta Vitali has shown her heart and soul in writing this book and I truly believe that her heart is where all of her cooking skills and  resulting good food begin and end.  From the minute I started reading the first chapter called "Soffritto - The basics of Tuscan Cooking", I instinctively knew that Benedetta and I were of the same mind when it comes to food and cooking even though we've never met and I've yet to step foot on Tuscan soil.

Don't be misled by my love her writing about food and cooking - there are many terrific recipes for you to explore such as a Classic Minestrone on page 20 - which directs you to combine the oil and minced onion, celery and carrot and to sauté this mixture, stirring frequently, until the soffritto is medium golden to light brown.  I can assure you that if you follow her directions, this will be the best Minestrone you will ever have.

The other recipe that I can promise you will have an outstanding taste is the Bolognese Sauce on page 149 in the Chapter called "Ragú: Theme and Variations on Meat Sauces".  Again, Benedetta directs you to cook the soffritto until it is nicely browned.

There is one ingredient in the Minestrone and Bolognese Sauce recipes that is not available - well, maybe it is but I haven't found it in New York where you can find almost any ingredient for any cuisine you can think of.  I haven't given up finding this ingredient - I have a few more places to search like the Italian shops in the Bronx along Arthur Avenue and a few other Italian stores.  Lardo is pork fat that has been pickled in a brine with herbs and spices.  It is used in cooking but it is also eaten thinly sliced and served with bread.

There is an article about Benedetta Vitali in the current August issue of Food & Wine entitled "Love, Italian Style" by Nancy Harmon Jenkins which talks about her book but also you'll get a good glimpse of what Benedetta's love of food and cooking Tuscan and Sicilian dishes is all about.




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