Sofrito, a basic tomato and onion sauce, is the backbone for many Spanish recipes. While it’s not typically eaten on its own or used as a condiment, it certainly packs enough robust flavor to do so. Make it ahead and keep it on hand to use when needed.
The sauce is mostly reddish in color, but the essence of its flavor lies in the sweetness of the caramelized onions. There are dozens of ways to make sofrito, but this version comes from my favorite Spanish chef, José Andrés. I have used this sofrito in a number of Spanish recipes as well as a base for salsas and marinara sauces. The fun is in finding new ways to use it!
Spanish Sofrito Sauce (Catalan Tomato and Onion Sauce)
Adapted from the José Andrés cookbook “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America”
10 ripe plum tomatoes
1½ C Spanish extra virgin olive oil
4 small Spanish onions (white or yellow onions can also be used)
1 t sugar
1 t salt
1 t pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
2-3 bay leaves
Cut the tomatoes in half and grate them over a large mixing bowl; discard the skins. Finely chop the onions. You will have approximately 4 C of grated tomatoes and 4 C of chopped onions.
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sugar and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, to caramelize the onions until they are light brown, soft and tender, about 45 minutes. Add a teaspoon or so of water if they start to get too dark—make sure they don’t blacken or burn.
When the onions have caramelized they will be soft and noticeably sweet in aroma. Add the grated tomatoes, pimentón and bay leaves. Stir once, then cook for another 20 minutes over medium heat. The sauce is finished when the tomatoes have broken down and deepened in color to a dark reddish brown, and when the oil has separated from the sauce.
Remove the bay leaves before using. Store the sauce, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.
Step by Step Details
Every time I make this sauce, I am amazed at what a rich flavor can come of so few simple ingredients.
First, grate the tomatoes and discard the skins.
You should have approximately 4C of grated tomatoes. Finely chop the onions, also yielding approximately 4C.
While this recipe calls for plum tomatoes, pretty much any tomato will work. Same with the onions: if you can’t find Spanish onions, use white or even yellow. Just make sure you have roughly equal amounts of grated tomatoes and chopped onions.
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sugar and salt.
Cook, stirring occasionally, to caramelize the onions until they are light brown, soft and tender, about 45 minutes. Add a teaspoon or so of water if they start to get too dark—make sure they don’t blacken or burn. Trust me: I kind of scorched mine the first time I made it, and while it didn’t exactly ruin the sauce, it did impact its flavor.
When the onions have caramelized they will be softened and noticeably sweet in their aroma. That sweetness is essential to the flavor of this sauce, so be patient and let the onions fully caramelize. Note: they should be a little darker than in the photo above, but again, not scorched or black.
Next, add the grated tomatoes, pimentón and bay leaves. Stir once, and then cook for 20 minutes or so over medium heat. The sauce will get darker as the tomatoes break down.
The sauce is ready when it becomes a dark reddish brown, and when the oil has separated from the sauce.
Give it a final stir and remove the bay leaves before using.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator for about a week, or freeze for up to 6 months. Enjoy!