What I love about cooking is making it your own. Think of all the different versions of chili or spaghetti or jambalaya. Cooking allows you to put your own creativity into a dish.
Recently I started making sofrito out of my excess garden tomatoes. It’s a fancy name for a basic tomato sauce common in Mediterranean, Caribbean and Hispanic cultures. And like our Midwest chili, every cook has a slightly different version, a favorite way of using it and a secret ingredient that makes their sofrito the best.
Sofrito is a great way to use up summer’s bounty of tomatoes, onions, peppers and onions — sort of like a salsa but a bit more versatile. Think of sofrito as a thick savory paste made from tomato, garlic, onions, peppers and fresh herbs. It’s the base of an infinite number of dishes, from Spanish paella and Colombian arroz con pollo to soups, empanadas, egg dishes and stews.
When the busy school and work nights come this fall, sofrito can be a helping hand from your freezer — a way to get a quick, healthy dinner on the table when you need it most. Think of it as a condiment: You can cook with it, marinate meats in it, dip your chips in it, add it to rice, or even roast vegetables or potatoes with it.
I like to use it as a base for a one-pot pasta, add some fresh basil, and serve it with a salad and garlic bread.
Putting up sofrito makes me feel like I’m resourceful and taking care of my family’s health. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant. Tomatoes are also a key to reducing inflammation because they contain carotenoids, another antioxidant.
In a study published in the journal Nutrients, healthy men were given sofrito to eat, and then had their inflammatory biomarkers measured. After just one serving of sofrito, those inflammatory biomarkers greatly improved. In other studies, consuming tomato products led to lower inflammation, which is mainly caused by the lycopene content of the tomatoes. Sofrito also contains extra virgin olive oil and onions, which provide additional beta-carotene.
Once made, you can refrigerate it for up to five days or freeze it in an ice cube tray, then store in a plastic bag. You can use it as a vegetable bouillon to flavor any savory dish, from a vegetable soup or stew to a pasta dish. (It can even be the secret ingredient in your homemade chili.)
- Spoon sofrito over grilled or roasted chicken, steak, fish or pork, or eggs.
- Mix sofrito into eggs before beating them to make scrambled eggs.
- Fill an omelet with sofrito and your favorite shredded cheese.
- Use sofrito in place of salsa.
- Mix sofrito with canned black beans or pinto beans to make a quick Mexican dish. Microwave beans with liquid, add hot sofrito on top, and serve over brown rice with slices of avocado and soft corn tortillas.
1 medium yellow onion
2 large cloves of garlic
1 large green bell pepper
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 large diced ripe tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Finely chop onion and garlic. Cut the pepper into small pieces. Heat a large, heavy pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and saute until transparent. Add the green pepper and continue to cook for five minutes, adding more olive oil if necessary. Be sure to stir often, so the vegetables don’t burn. Add the minced garlic and saute for one minute more. Add the tomatoes and paprika to the pan and mix well. Continue to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid released from the tomatoes is evaporated and the consistency of the sofrito is like a thick sauce.
One-Pot Spaghetti With Sofrito
12 ounces spaghetti
4 ounces sofrito
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
Crushed red pepper (to taste)
½ cup grated fresh Parmesan, plus more for serving
Put the spaghetti, oil, sofrito, basil, crushed red pepper and 1 teaspoon salt in a high-sided medium skillet. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring the spaghetti frequently to keep it from clumping, until it is al dente and the sauce has reduced and thickened, six to eight minutes. Stir in the Parmesan (the sauce will thicken more), and season with salt, if needed. Divide the spaghetti among four bowls and garnish with more Parmesan and torn basil leaves. Serves 4.
Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected]. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.