There are a lot of reasons to keep a stash of sofrito on hand, but I'm going to focus on one. Having great sofrito means you're on the fast track to great paella. Sofrito is the base magic. Keep it on hand in your refrigerator. Keep it in your freezer. It is the building block of many Spanish, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Italian, and Latin American dishes, and it is much loved for good reason. It adds complexity and dimension to each dish you couldn't achieve otherwise, and the variations are infinite.
Here's the deal. I'm going to argue that you need an hour to make great sofrito. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Or, allow me to rephrase. You need an hour to make the style of sofrito that makes a paella like this one really wonderful. It requires time, because it is the long gentle sauté that brings out the sweetness of the onions. It's the long simmer that brings together the layered flavors of tomato, rosemary, garlic, and green bell pepper. I've tried quick versions, and I've taken shortcuts when pressed for time - the resulting paella, just isn't as good.
Other Uses for Sofrito
You can use sofrito as more than a cooking base. It's delicious in its own right! It can have an unctuous jammy consistency perfect spread across a slab of hearty garlic toast, or dolloped as a finishing touch on a bowl of risotto. It's great as the base for quick dressings that you can use to toss things like grilled asparagus, or broiled broccoli, or roasted cauliflower. Once you have a jar on hand, it becomes the essence of fast flavor, and your best weeknight friend.
My main advice - double the recipe. This means you should have enough sofrito for four rounds of paella. Cook, and then, after cooling, freeze half of your sofrito for later use. Use the other fresh, unfrozen half within the week.
Fresh Tomatoes or Canned?
You can use either! I've included amounts for both in the recipe below. If I have a glut of summer tomatoes, I use those. If canned tomatoes are more convenient, they work wonderfully as well. Go ahead and experiment. I find the fresh tomatoes put off more liquid, but work nicely.
I like to avoid when possible special equipment when possible, and this is one of those cases. Many sofrito recipes have you run the cooked tomato mixture through a food mill or processor, both steps I avoid. I've found that grating the tomatoes on a box grater is a bit more work up front, but results in a consistency I like without any special equipment.
This makes enough sofrito for two pans of paella. If you know you want to make paella regularly, double this recipe and you’ll have weekly paella for a month. The sofrito can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, or frozen.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded, and minced
- 1/2 cup red wine (or white)
- 2 28- ounce cans of whole tomatoes, drained, cored, and grated on a box grater OR 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes, grated on a box grater
- 1 sprig rosemary
- scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
To make the sofrito, heat the oil and gently cook the onions, not allowing any browning, until translucent and soft, 8 -10 minutes. Add the garlic, and the green bell pepper, and cook until these soften and fall apart a bit.
Add the wine, and allow to the alcohol to evaporate - a few minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, the rosemary and salt. Simmer gently, over very low heat, for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and season with more salt, to taste. Remove the rosemary. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator, until ready to use.