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Sofrito saved my sanity


Just when we thought we had survived the pandemic without catching the virus, there it was, BAM- both struck down and into iso. My many vaccines meant I was not too sick and Raf, having a weak immune system was pumped with anti-virals and we sat it out.

Feeling ordinary and eating out of the fridge and cupboard meant our diet was not that imaginative or healthy. It involved quite a bit of toast and pasta until we ran out of bread (and flour) and pasta, something we very rarely do. We had no protein and few vegetables. In the crisper, there was celery, carrot, fennel and a couple of sweet potatoes. We had some potatoes and a few onions, some eggs but only a small amount of bacon.


Many years ago, there was a show on TV called surprise chef where a guy would turn up at people's houses and cook a nifty meal from what people had in their fridge and this came to mind. We did ask friends and family for a few essentials like coffee, green leaves from the garden and milk but otherwise, I tried to eat with what I had.


Staying at home without human contact was OK when everyone was in the same boat. It was quite a fun collective experiment two years ago, but being locked up when everyone else is out is lonely and boring. One of my favourite time wasters, procrastination tools and just straight-out creative pleasures is to cook. I took out the carrot, celery, onion and fennel and made some pointless battuta for a sofrito for what I don't know.


It's very therapeutic to cut onion, carrot and celery into tiny cubes and then put them into separate little bowls just as if I was on a cooking show. I even did it to the fennel but stopped at the sweet potatoes. I googled both sofrito and battuta and also looked them up in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking where I discovered that battuta is the process of cutting things in little cubes, hence the name which comes from battere the Italian word to hit, and sofrito is the process of frying it to make a tasty base for a number of dishes. In her emphatic Italian way, she said that it MUST be cooked properly, that is you cook the onion first so it gently sautés and add the garlic so it does not burn, then add the other vegetables and cook them well before adding stock or protein. She insists to do otherwise will ruin the flavour of the dish.


I know Spanish sofrito is onion, garlic and tomato and this is common also in the south of Italy and I suppose Indian "sofrito" could be the base of onion, garlic, ginger and spices. All of these also involve cooking the onion first before adding the rest.


Well, that all helped me while away an hour or so and then I had to think of what was going to do with all these vegetables. I got out a tin of lentils and made yummy lentils for lunch with some of the battuta, then the rest went in portions into the little plastic bags that came with the RAT tests and I put them in the freezer for later.


Today, my sister-in-law had popped over with some mercy minced meat and some spaghetti so I will leave you with my Marcella Hazan inspired Spaghetti Bolognese sauce ( at which she would sneer, because there is no such dish in Italy!) Anyway, it's a traditional Australian comfort food dish, good for when you are feeling sorry for yourself.







Spaghetti Bolognese

olive oil- a good slug

1 onion - finely diced

1 chopped clove of garlic

2 carrots - peeled and finely diced

1 stick of celery - finely diced

1 cup finely diced fennel (optional)

500g minced beef (or pork and veal)

half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons of milk

I glass of red wine

I tin of chopped tomatoes


salt and pepper to taste


In a heavy bottom pan, good for slow cooking, put in a good generous slug of olive oil and add the onion and sauté slowly until it is translucent and soft but not brown.

Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so.

Add the other diced vegetables and cook gently until they are all soft but not browned.

Add the mince to the pan and break up with a fork so that it is separated and cook until it is slightly brown.

Grate the nutmeg into the pan and stir.

Add the milk, stir in and let it evaporate.

Add the red wine and cook until it is evaporated.

Add the tin of tomatoes. Stir well and add salt and black pepper.

Add a tin of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.


* the secret of a good bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese is not to have too much sauce. There is nothing worse than pasta floating in a bowl of sauce! Make the pasta the star so but some very good spaghetti, bring a big pan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti and when it is cooked, drain it, then add a ladle of the sauce to colour the pasta, serve in the bowls and add a ladle of sauce on the top of the spaghetti. Top with grated parmesan cheese.


** this sauce lasts ages in the fridge and freezes well so you can have it again when you need a bit of easy comfort. (Also nice heated up with a poached egg in it or on toast.. and dare I suggest also as a shepherd's pie topped with mashed potato... sorry Marcella!)































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