Soffritto napoletano

FrankCampania, pasta, secondi piatti40 Comments

Soffritto napoletano

We don’t often think about it, but meats also have seasons. Just as lamb is a talisman of the spring, autumn and early winter is pork season. In the days before freezers, it was the time of year when pigs were traditionally slaughtered. The colder weather acted as a natural preservative for the huge quantities of meat that the animal would yield.

Many dishes traditionally served at this time of year were originally devised to use up the whole hog—especially the more perishable bits—before spoilage set in. We’ve already seen one dish in this tradition, the Minestra dei morti, or Soup of the Dead, a Milanese dish originally made with cuts from the hog’s head, served for All Soul’s Day on November 2.

Today we’re taking a look at another dish in this ancient tradition, this time from the south: Soffritto napoletano, or o’suffritt’ in dialect. It uses a variety of different pork innards, soaked at length to remove any gaminess, then sautéed in lard and finally braised in a robust and spicy tomato sauce scented with chili peppers and herbs. This hearty dish is a fixture in Neapolitan cuisine still today, available ready-made in pork stores all over town.

Elsewhere you’ll need to make it yourself, but fortunately soffritto napoletano is extremely simple to make if a bit time-consuming. And the taste is out of this world, reminiscent in a way of the classic Neapolitan ragù, albeit with a stronger flavor, as befits its nickname zuppa forte, or “strong soup”. You can enjoy it as a stew, with some crusty bread, or as a chunky sauce for pasta. Either way, I think it’s delicious. If you’re an adventurous eater, do give it a try. And even if you’re not, do think about it. This tasty stew might even win over some sceptics of organ meats.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5-2 kilos pork innards (see Notes)
  • 1-2 red chili peppers, preferably fresh
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • Red wine, about 125ml/1/2 cup
  • 250g (8 oz) tomato paste, more or less
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz lard)
  • Salt and pepper

Direction

Cut the innards into bite-sized chunks, trimming any gristle as you go.

Place the cut up innards in a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak for about two hours, changing the water from time to time until the water runs clear. Drain well and let air dry for a few minutes, then finish off with paper towels.

Heat the lard in a large pot. When it’s hot, add the innards. The innards will turn color and then exude their liquid. Keep on simmering, stirring from time to time, until the liquid has evaporated and you begin to hear sizzling. Continue to sauté until the pieces begin to brown.

Add the chili pepper, bay leaf and rosemary and give the pot a stir. Sauté for a minute or so more, until you can smell the aromatics. Add a good pour of red wine and let it evaporate. Then add the tomato paste, which you will have loosened with a glassful of water, giving everything a stir. More water can go in if need be, so the liquid just covers the pork pieces.

Lower the heat and cover the pot. Let everything simmer very gently for two to three hours, until the pork pieces are fork-tender and the sauce dark and unctuous and flavorful.

Serve hot, with crusty bread. Or as a sauce for pasta.

Soffritto napoletano

Notes

As you will have seen, the dish isn’t complicated. That initial soak, however, is important to remove any unpleasant gaminess from the organ meats. Make sure the water runs completely clear before you proceed.

Otherwise, the biggest challenge in making this simple dish is finding the ingredients. A classic soffritto napoletano usually includes a variety of pork innards, including the heart, lung, spleen and (often but not always) liver. In old time recipes you also throw in the trachea. Most of these cuts, collectively referred to as the ‘coratella‘ in Italian, are essentially impossible to find in markets today. [If they’re not thrown away, they’re used for the production of pet food.] But if you’re lucky enough to be on friendly terms with a butcher, you may be able to source at least some of them.

And, as is often the case for organ meats and other unusual cuts, “ethnic” markets are usually a good bet. For this dish, I was able to find pork heart and liver at a local Chinese supermarket. Occasionally I’ve seen recipes for soffritto napoletano calling for tongue or kidney, which are still relatively easy to find, and can provide some of the variety of the traditional recipe. In short, use what you can find. After all, it’s the original spirit of the dish.

Surprisingly enough, the typical pastas recommended for this chunky sauce are long ones: bucatini, spaghettoni, spaghetti, linguine and fettuccine are all common choices. But the sauce goes very nicely with short pastas as well. Being a Neapolitan classic, I’d give paccheri a go.

If you really must, you can substitute olive oil for the lard, but your soffritto will suffer for it. Just as in a classic Neapolitan ragù, lard not only gives the dish its distinctive porky taste, but a soft, velvety mouthfeel that is characteristic of the dish.

Variations

In some version of this dish, a bit less tomato paste goes in, replaced by passata di pomodoro. It’s a variation that I’d recommend if you want to use your soffritto napoletano as a pasta sauce. Another common variation is adding some puréed red pepper sauce or salsa di peperoni. In a similar vein, some recipes call for a sprinkling of hot or mild paprika, for a little extra oomph. Not exactly DOC, if you ask me, but it does sound appealing.

Soffritto napoletano

A rustic stew made from pork innards sautéed in lard and braised in a robust tomato sauce
Prep Time2 hrs
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time4 hrs
Course: Main Course, Primo
Cuisine: Campania
Keyword: braised
Servings: 46

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 kilos 3-4 lbs pork innards trimmed of any gristle and cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1-2 red chili peppers preferably fresh
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • Red wine about 125ml/1/2 cup
  • 250g 8 oz tomato paste more or less, to taste
  • 100g 3-1/2 oz lard
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  • Cut the innards into bite-sized chunks, trimming any gristle as you go. 
  • Place the cut up innards in a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak for about two hours, changing the water from time to time until the water runs clear. Drain well and let air dry for a few minutes, then finish off with paper towels. 
  • Heat the lard in a large pot. When it's hot, add the innards. The innards will turn color and then exude their liquid. Keep on simmering, stirring from time to time, until the liquid has evaporated and you begin to hear sizzling. Continue to sauté until the pieces begin to brown.
  • Add the pepper, bay leaf and rosemary and give the pot a stir. Sauté for a minute or so more, until you can smell the aromatics. Add a good pour of red wine and let it evaporate. Add the tomato paste, which you will have loosened with a glassful of water. Add that to the pot and give everything a stir. Add more water if need be, so the liquid just covers the pork pieces. 
  • Add the pepper, bay leaf and rosemary and give the pot a stir. Sauté for a minute or so more, until you can smell the aromatics. Add a good pour of red wine and let it evaporate. Add the tomato paste, which you will have loosened with a glassful of water. Add that to the pot and give everything a stir. Add more water if need be, so the liquid just covers the pork pieces. 
  • Lower the heat and cover the pot. Let everything simmer very gently for two to three hours, until the pork pieces are fork-tender and the sauce dark and unctuous and flavorful. 
  • Serve hot, with crusty bread. Or as a sauce for pasta. 

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40 Comments on “Soffritto napoletano”

  1. This is a delicious hearty dish dear Frank! We have a similar dish called exactly like that “soffritto” in the Ionian islands (Corfu, Zante etc.). The reason is that from the medieval times until the 17th century, these islands were under Venetian rule. But this Neapolitan version sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing it with us 🙂

    1. Funny how offal has fallen out of fashion. It used to be that you’d find it in any supermarket. These days you’re lucky if you can find liver and then it’s usually frozen since so few people buy it. A real shame!

  2. How interesting! I do have an Asian market nearby with a huge meat counter. I’ve always been kind of nervous about exploring it – which says nothing about the market, but a lot about me. Anyway, I’m definitely an adventurous eater, and if you set this in front of me, I’d surely devour it.

    1. Sounds like it’s time to check out that Asian supermarket, Jeff! Trust me, if you’re interested in food as I know you are, they’re fascinating places to explore, whether or not you’re on a mission.

  3. Ohhh, I never knew that. Because here in NZ meat is all year round, I guess we are a meat country after all. I bet this would taste awesome, so much flavours and using offal, as Asian we do love it a lot, the texures and variety of flavours you get from it. Plus eating organ meats is great since you are not wasting any parts of the animal. Great recipe

    1. I so agree Raymond. I do like the idea of not wasting any of its parts. And so I do continue to post recipes like this, in the hopes it might win some people back to eating offal. It used to be a thing. I can remember as a child and even into my young adulthood, you could find offal easily in any supermarket. Now it’s mostly disappeared. Not quite sure why tastes changed. In some ways, our food culture has become richer during my lifetime but in others—as in the variety of meats and meat cuts—it’s become poorer.

  4. What a fascinating post; you are such a good writer. There’s just no way I can ever make this. It’s hard enough making a pork terrine here, and it doesn’t even contain liver or any other offal! But wow your stew looks fantastic.

  5. It never would have occurred to me that meats also have their seasons – interesting! Actually, I do love offal (I haven’t tried everything, but livers and hearts are quite common for my cooking), so this dish is right up my road! 🙂 It looks absolutely hearty and homey!

  6. Unfortunately, I find offals a little too rich these days but your dish looks comforting and tasty. The sauce looks incredibly rich and I’d just love to sop it up with some fresh, crusty bread.

  7. We still slaughter the pigs once the temperatures are low. It is perfect weather to smoke and leave them in the opened air so it does it’s work with prosciutto and pancetta ! Sausages included ! Hoping to enjoy all the goodies for Christmas ! Your lardo innards sound great !

  8. This has me drooling, Frank — what a rich bowl of beauty! The spleen sandwiches that John mentions are pretty amazing! We had them in Palermo. I think my only hope in making this will be to go to our Asian grocer and see what they can pull out. Definitely some thing Mark and I will enjoy trying.

    1. Thanks so much, David! Good luck finding the ingredients at your local Asian grocer. Bet you’d find at least some there.

  9. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of offal. However, you do a great job in this post of convincing me to try it again sometime. The gaminess is always what chased me off from these cuts of meat – so maybe? Either way, this does sound tasty, and I really enjoy the background here, Frank. Meats do have seasons. I’ve never thought about it like that before, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing this classic!

    1. And thanks for your comment, David! Not everyone is into offal, it’s true. If you do give them another look, I’d start with the heart and/or tongue. While they’re categorized as offal, both are actually muscles so they have much less of that gaminess that puts people off. I remember I grilled some beef heart over the summer. It tasted like the beefiest piece of beef I had ever tasted.

  10. Here in Australia my local butcher says ‘Oh, you !’ when I walk in thru’ the door !! But he finds the stuff !!! I do not believe this is seasonal in even-temperatured Oz . . . but, these days, too many people do turn up their noses at innards ! More for the likes of me !!! Love your very simple recipe and shall manage to make . . .

  11. I have never had this, but would definitely give it a try! Love anything spicy, and this sounds like a great way of preparing offal. One thing I hate is that we are a culture that has deemed it “gross” and therefore normalize throwing away innards of animals. If it’s edible, it should be used. I voiced my annoyance at Whole Foods not selling any pork with the skin. Apparently, people complained! (Insert angry face here.)

    1. Well worth a try, Christina! And I couldn’t agree more about throwing away perfectly edible food. In some ways, our food culture has improved over the years, but in others it’s become more impoverished. That’s especially true when it comes to the variety of meat cuts we have available compared to when we were growing up.

  12. That’s my kind of stew …or maybe even pie! I know just the market stalls for the menuts (offal).
    The end of October is matanza time in Spain, where some people still kill the family pig making sausages, chorizo, morcilla, cured hams, etc. Even when salting ham, the time of year and temperature is important. The flies have gone and warmth would rot the meat before the cure got started, so it’s important to do it in the winter.

    1. How lucky you are, MD, to have access to all the necessary menuts. And to live in a place where these culinary traditions still live on. Enjoy!

  13. Oh how stupid of me!!!! I can’t go to Muslim butchers for this as they never eat pork!!! Well, back to the drawing board!!

    1. No problem, David! If you have an Asian market in your area you might try that. They usually have a lot of pork products including some of these hard to find cuts. And that tripe vinaigrette sounds delicious. I’ve been meaning to post on that dish as well one of these days.

  14. Hi Frank – Thank you so much for this recipe. I love organ meats from most any animal. I also found out how tripe was so good from fast food stands in Florence and my cousins’ cooking in Naples who made the most amazing tripe vinagerette (can’t get this spelling right for some reason) salad with pickled vegetables – which was served as an aperitif to have with drinks before the meal. It knocked me out. My mother (from Naples) and I were the only ones in our family who liked this kind of food so we didn’t have it very often.

    This particular stew seems wonderful and I will have to go out and search for the ingredients. Luckily, we have a number of Muslim and Eastern European butchers in London where I know I can get them. I am looking forward to trying it. I love all your posts. Regards David

  15. Wow. This recipe brought back many memories of my Calabrese grandma in the late 40’s-50’s. She made this along with fresh bread but couldn’t tell me in English what was in it. My dad said, ” you know, guts.” The name stuck, and “Guts” became a favorite until the ingredients were no longer available in stores.It was the original “Sloppy Giuseppe.” I’ll stick with the memory as my modern family would be put off by the prep work.
    PS- I love your descriptions and dedication to real Italian food!

    1. Ha! Well, I guess “guts” is a pretty accurate way to describe what’s in this dish! Great story, Dick. And thanks for the kind words.

  16. What a fun post! When I was a kid I often saw pork and beef hearts at my supermarket. You’re right, though, that sourcing the ingredients might be a bit of a challenge. Need to head to the “Hill” in St. Louis — bet some of the butchers there might have everything I need. Neat recipe — thanks.

  17. Ciao Frank,
    Grazie tante for featuring Sofritto (soffritt in my Pugliese dialect) in today’s newsletter. It brought back wonderful memories from when I was a child … lady parishioners made and served it in a bun at our Lady of Mt Carmel Church Festival in Wtby CT. It was always a favorite of mine and my Mom’s.

    My understanding was that it was made from the heart and lung of a cow. Perhaps that was just their version. And unless I am misinformed, I understand that the lung is no longer available in the US. Your comments are much appreciated.

    I look forward to making your version of this delicious stew.
    Carole

    1. Thanks, Carole. You know, another reader mentioned that lungs are banned in the US and did a bit of Googling that confirmed it. Here’s what I read: “Since 1971, the Department of Agriculture has banned the production and importation of animal lungs because of the risk that gastrointestinal fluid might leak into them during the slaughtering process, raising the likelihood of food-borne illness.” Just seems exaggerated. Apparently it’s a big issue for lovers of Scottish haggis, since lungs are an essential ingredient so some haggis lovers resort to smuggling lamb lungs into the country from Canada marked as dirty clothing…

  18. Wow. The photo brought back a flood of memories of my Calabrese grandma. She used to make a similar dish with fresh bread in the late 40’s-50’s and I loved it. She couldn’t explain the ingredients in English and my dad said ” you know, guts.” I think “guts” became a favorite until the ingredients were no longer sold in stores. You could now call it a “sloppy Giuseppe”. I don’t think I could ever duplicate it.

  19. Just wondering if this is the same kind of ragu when making the Sicilian spleen sandwich on soft bread rolls– I think it is spelled vestedde? By the way, I wish you had a cookbook out. I love your recipes.

    1. Thanks, John! I’m no expert of Sicilian cookery but as I understand it, the spleen sandwiches they make it Sicily are a bit different as the spleen is beef—the sandwich was originally a speciality of the Jewish community in Palermo—and they don’t use tomato (just as the original Neapolitan version of soffritto, which goes back to pre-Columbian times). But the spirit of the dish is certainly the same. In fact, I understand there is a version of the sandwich they call pani ca’ meusa maritata where they mix up different organ meats much like this dish and fry them in lard. That version must taste pretty similar to this.

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