(Makes 3 cups)
10 ripe plum tomatoes
1½ cups Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
4 small Spanish onions, peeled and finely chopped (about; 4 cups)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt;
1 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish sweet; paprika)
1 bay leaf
Cut the tomatoes in half. Place a grater over a large mixing bowl.
Rub the open face of the tomatoes over the grater until all the flesh is grated. Discard the skin.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium-low flame.
Add the onions, the sugar, and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the onions become soft and tender and turn a light brown color, about 45 minutes. You want the onions to caramelize. If they get too dark, add ½ tablespoon of water to keep them from burning while they cook.
Add the reserved tomato puree, the pimentón, and the bay leaf. Cook for another 20 minutes over medium heat. You’ll know your sofrito is ready when t he tomato has broken down and deepened in color, and the oil has separated from the sauce.
Sofrito is the sauce that launched a thousand dishes. It’s the essence, the foundation, of Spanish cooking. This meeting of the Old World of olive oil and the New World of tomato makes the perfect basis for any starring ingredient- chicken, fish, shellfish. You’ll use this recipe again and again in tapas cooking. Master it, commit it to memory, and open the door to Spain.
The key to this sauce is the onion, not the tomato. Make sure the onion is cooked well enough that it’s soft and sweet-sweet enough to smell-before you add the tomato. Then use your judgment with the seasoning, including the sugar. You can make this sauce several days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You’ll use it time and again to great effect.