Italian cuisine is chock-full of sauces from tomato sauce or pesto to bolognese or ragu. Celery, carrot and onion are essential ingredients in the preparation of many Italian sauces. You can even find the three vegetables pre-chopped, mixed and sold in the frozen food section of grocery stores in Italy.
The French call it mirepoix; Americans call it the holy trinity; the Spanish call it sofrito; and Italians call it soffritto. The term literally means to fry something at a low heat for a short time. It is used to describe sautéed vegetables used as a base for a sauce. While there are variations, the vegetables usually used to prepare soffritto are celery (sedano in Italian), onion (cipolla) and carrot (carota).
Finely chopping carrots, onion and celery into even cubes. Put olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and stir constantly for 15 minutes or until the onions are transparent. Add pepper and salt to taste. You can also make more soffritto than needed and freeze the extra for later use.
Although soffritto with celery, onion and carrot is the most common, a soffritto can vary depending on its end use. Some recipes call for adding herbs like rosemary, basil or sage to the base ingredients, and others call for a soffritto of just onion. The soffritto can be prepared with a specific onion like red onion, leeks, white onion or scallions. The recipe might also call for an additional ingredient like bell peppers or garlic.
Almost all Italian sauces begin with a soffritto, even if it is only sautéed garlic. The only exception is cheese-based sauces. In a basic tomato sauce, fresh or canned tomatoes are added after the soffritto vegetables have softened. In bolognese or ragu sauce, the meat and red wine follow the soffritto. Soffritto is also the base for many Italian stews, soups and meat dishes.