As I write, my house if filled with the wonderful aroma of sofregit, a Catalan word for a sauté of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions. This version has red peppers and mushrooms added ….so fragrant! Known as soffritto in the rest of Spain, sofrito in Italy, and bećar paprikaš in my homeland, Serbia, it is the flavoring component of the rice dish that is our Daring Cooks’ challenge for this month.
Olga from Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes is our host for August. She has chosen a delicious Spanish recipe by José Andrés, one of the most important Spanish Chefs at the moment. He trained under well-known Ferran Adria at his three star Michelin restaurant El Bulli. José Andrés now lives in Washington DC and owns several restaurants in the DC area. The recipe is from his US TV show Made in Spain.
This delicious rice dish includes cuttlefish, artichokes and a few precious threads of azafran, or saffron. The word is derived from the Arabic asfar meaning ‘yellow’ for the vivid yellow-orange color it imparts to food and fabric. Saffron is a collection of the stigmas and styles of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. One of the finest growing regions is La Mancha in Spain. Painstaking to harvest, it is the most expensive spice by weight. Fortunately, a few threads is all you need to season the entire dish. In fact, too much saffron can be toxic.
My well-travelled son spent a month in Spain this summer and gifted me with a small container of saffron - a wonderful gift for any cook!
A key element in this dish is an Allioli ‘mayonnaise’. It is critical to the final flavor of the rice. And let me warn you…a little goes a looong way. It is spicy and pungent and suits our Serbian sensibility – you can never have too much garlic! Making the sofregit and allioli ahead of time will allow you to put the dish together quickly.
Allioli (I chose to make the ‘traditional’ version. For the ‘modern’ recipe, please go to Olga’s site)
Cooking time: 20 min aprox.
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt
Fresh lemon juice (a few drops)
Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)
Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.
Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)
Add the lemon juice to the garlic. Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.
Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go.
Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.
José's tips for traditional recipe: It's hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don't give up. It's worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you're adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all! I pressed the garlic through a garlic press which sped up the process. I had a smooth allioli with a definite ‘bite’ to it.
Ingredients for the sofregit:
Sofregit Cooking time: about 1-1 1/2 hours. (My changes are in blue)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (optional) I used 1 red pepper and 1 red jalapeno pepper
4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional) I used a combination of button and cremini mushrooms
1 bay leaf (fresh from my garden)
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of dried oregano 1 fresh sprig
Put all the ingredients together in a pot and sauté slowly until all the vegetables are soft. Taste and add salt if necessary. You will not use all of the sofregit for this rice dish. Here are just a few delicious ideas on how you can use the rest of it: as a filling for omelets, on toast, on top of grilled fish, in soups or with polenta.
The sofregit after cooking for about 1 1/2 hours:
Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes Serves 4
2 cuttlefish I couldn’t find cuttlefish in my part of the woods so I substituted calamari
4 artichoke hearts, each cut into eighths I used frozen artichoke hearts but you can use canned or fresh
12 mushrooms, quartered I used a combination of button and cremini
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine
2 cups (300g) short grain rice such as Arborio, Calasparra or Montsant
about 6 cups of water or fish stock
a few saffron threads (you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, if necessary)
Cut the cuttlefish or calamari into thin strips.
Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan pan on high heat and add the cuttlefish/calamari in the pan.
Add the artichokes, mushrooms and bay leaves. Sauté until the artichokes are golden.
Add a little white wine to the saucepan and about 3 spoons (I added at least 1/2 cup) of the sofregit and make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.
Add the rest of the wine and the stock and bring it to boil. Add the rice and let it cook for about 5 minutes on high heat.
Add a few saffron threads (or the turmeric) to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor. Turn heat to low and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”).
Take the away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes. Serve each portion with a small dollop of allioli.
Once I had all the ingredients ready, this dish came together very quickly. We shared it with my sister’s family and it was well liked by all. I added a pound of large shrimp (20 count) for the final 8 minutes of cooking time because I felt that there wasn’t enough ‘meat’ to go around – there were 3 teenagers at the table, two of them over 6 feet tall!