You may wonder sometimes why our culture is referred to as Latino or Latin American. We live in the Americas, so maybe we should be referred to as simply American, no? But when you look at the history of some of our more iconic Latin American dishes, you can get an understanding of how many of our food habits harken back to the world of the Old World and the ancient Romans.
Take sofrito for instance. We are all familiar with this wonderfully sautéed flavor base, seen mostly in Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisine. Made of a mixture of chopped bell peppers, chopped tomatoes, onions, and garlic, sofrito is used to flavor rice, stews, and a myriad of classic Latin American dishes.
Our English word fry, the Spanish word freir, and the Italian word friggere all come from the original Latin word frigere, which means “to fry”. The early Romans (who spoke Latin) would gently sauté vegetables or spices in olive oil to give the oil flavor. The preparations for flavoring the olive oil eventually became more elaborate, and morphed over time, depending on what ingredients were favored, or available. This ancient Old World technique of flavoring olive oil eventually became the sofrito that we are familiar with today in Latin American cuisine.
Sofrito shows up in different forms in both European and Latin American cuisine. Many Spanish dishes use a Spanish sofrito as well, but the composition is more similar to that of the Latin American version which features tomatoes and peppers. Brazilian and Portuguese cooking features refogado, a mixture almost identical to Spanish-style sofrito. The Italian version, sofritto is made of carrots, celery, and onions, sautéed in olive oil and use as a flavoring base as well. However, Italian sofritto does not feature the fruits of the Americas. Tomatoes and peppers are natives of our American continent, and were not included in the sofrito until Columbus arrived in the New World.
An old recipe, but a familiar friend, sofrito is a Latin American ingredient that can trace its roots to the beginning of our culture. Start your journey into sofrito with these two recipes for Sofrito Basico and Green Sofrito.