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swirl and savor

Humble Beginnings, Italian Soffritto

Beth Ribblett

I've been craving pasta ever since we returned from Tuscany last week.  You see we ate it every day, sometimes multiple times a day, for two weeks straight.  And what is fascinating about pasta in Italy is that you can eat it that many times and never eat the same dish twice.  Because each place you visit has their own specialty shape or type of pasta, different sauce or preparation.  There was the rich and decadent chestnut flour ravioli at La Buccacia, or the wild boar ragu at Enoteca Fonterutoli, and the rustic pici pasta in Montepulciano, ricotta gnocchi at La Grotta, the paccheri giganti from Napoli, not to mention the Roman classics we ate our last night like Pasta Carbonara and L'Amatriciana.  The list is endless, but what I've really been craving lately in the lasagna made by our favorite Italian nonna in Cortona who spends all day making us 2 big pans of the most delicious layers you've ever tasted that we ate at our first dinner in the villa on Sunday night.  I decided yesterday to invite a few friends over for dinner so I could see how close I could come to her divine dish.

Paglia e Fieno Pasta at La Braccesca
But I have along way to go until I actually get to start assembling, not because it is a complicated recipe, but one with many steps that allows you to achieve something really special in a simple dish like lasagna.  And the first step is the soffritto. Like the Holy Trinity of New Orleans cuisine, a "soffritto" is the starting point for many Italian soups, sauces and stews. While locally we use equal parts onion, celery and green peppers, in Italy the base is usually a combination of carrots, onion and celery with the proportions of each depending on what you are cooking.

To begin to make the meat ragu, I first need the soffritto.  Using the recipe in Frances Mayes new Tuscan Sun cookbook, I began the long journey to tomorrow's lasagna!

Makes 1 cup:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 stick of celery, minced
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Mince the onion, carrot, celery and parley, do not use a food processor, take the time properly achieve a fine texture. I like to mince each separately and then combine all and mince together.  Saute the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium low heat until they begin to color and turn tender, she says 5-7 minutes, I say 10-12 minutes!