A combination of diced onions, celery and carrots, mirepoix (mihr-PWAH) is used in classic French cuisine as the flavor base for a wide range of dishes. Often, these aromatic vegetables are sautéed in butter as the beginning of a dish and are used to flavor stocks, soups, sauces and braises or as a bed for roasting meat or fish.
The technique is common to a wide range of cuisines. Mirepoix is a close cousin to the “holy trinity” of Cajun cuisine (onions, celery and bell pepper). It bears a striking resemblance to the sofrito of Spain (onions, green peppers and garlic sautéed in pork fat) and the soffrito of Italy (usually celery, green peppers, onions and garlic sautéed in olive oil).
Traditionally, the ratio for mirepoix is two parts onion to one part carrot and one part celery, but the combination varies according to the dish and individual tastes. Whatever combination you choose, chopping each ingredient finely is key. You might also want to take a cue from line chefs at classic French restaurants and prepare it ahead. Pre-chop the ingredients on a Sunday, store them in the refrigerator or freezer, and you’re ready for a week of cooking. You’re on your way to a flavorful soup or a simple braise. Try stewing a chicken in a slow cooker with just mirepoix, a little white wine and a sprinkle of herbes de Provence.
Winter Minestrone Soup
You can use almost any vegetable lingering in your fridge to make this soup (although we might skip broccoli and cauliflower). It’s great with a can of white beans thrown in, too.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 red or white onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
4 ounces finely chopped shaved deli ham
3 cups water
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup wheat berries, rinsed
1 Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil
1 (1-pound) bag kale, chopped
4 toasted pita breads
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add onions, celery, carrots and ham. Sauté 10 minutes. Add water and next 6 ingredients (water through black pepper). Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until wheat berries are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and kale; cook until thoroughly heated. The longer the soup sits with the cheese rind, the more intense the flavor. Serve with toasted pita bread. Serves 8.
Per serving: 230 calories, 4.5g fat, 10mg chol., 11g prot., 38g carbs., 7g fiber, 590mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn