Catalan Samfaina is an exuberant vegetable mixture widely used in Catalan cuisine as a sauce or base for meat, fish, and fowl dishes.
At the same time, it’s a succulent vegetarian dish that more and more people eat as a first vegetarian course or as a side dish. It adds a bright touch of color to meals and tables too.
We eat it by itself as a vegetarian dish all the time as it is delicious and healthy. Some home cooks complain that it takes time, but I don’t, and in fact, it’s rather easy to cook and if you make a large quantity it freezes well.
Catalan Samfaina Ingredients
Serves 6 as a sauce, base or side dish; 4 as a sole course
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium size onion —peeled and cut into about 3/4-inch or 2 cm strips; or you can dice them if you like
- 3 bell peppers —cut into about 1-inch or 2.5 cm cubes
- 3 or 4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes — peeled, seeded (optional), and chopped into about 1-inch pieces or 2.5 cm
- 1 or 2 eggplants —cut into 1-inch or 2.5 cm cubes.
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
Instructions for Catalan Samfaina
- Peel the eggplants only if they aren’t heirloom or organic. If they are good quality go ahead and dice them with the skin. Sweat them while you are preparing the vegetables. If you have a lot of time, you can do this step one or two hours before you begin with the samfaina.
- Peel the tomatoes and chop them coarsely. I don’t usually seed them, but if you choose to do it, do this after halving them and before chopping them.
- Dice or cut the onion into lengthwise strips. Next, dice the peppers.
- Heat the olive oil in an earthenware casserole or Dutch oven. Add the onion and sautee 2 or 3 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly. Before the onion turns golden, add the pepper. Stirr, cover and cook covered for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring a few times.
- Add the eggplant that you have previously diced, stir, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomato, stir and cover. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat stirring a few times. Add the salt, stir and cook for 15 to 20 more minutes over low heat, stirring the samfaina every 5 minutes or so.
Catalan Samfaina and French Ratatouille
Actually, what most people call French ratatouille is a traditional dish from the city of Nice and the Provence and is called ratatolha niçarda in Occitan. Catalan Samfaina and ratatolha or ratatouille are closely related recipes with similar ingredients.
Traditionally, the Catalan samfaina recipe includes onion, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. And as usual, there seems to be as many variations as households. Some leave the onion out, others add garlic, or roast the peppers previously…
Variations and Tips regarding Samfaina
Actually, in Catalan cuisine samfaina is one of the basic sauces and it is regarded as a sofregit. But except when you eat it as a sole vegetarian dish, which is a new tradition, you generally cook it on top of the already roasted meat or fish, in the same pot or pan. With sofregit you almost always cook it first and add the fish or meat later.
When the eggplant isn’t in season you can replace it with zuchinis
Each recipe specifies if you want a complete samfaina like this one or you have to remove the onion or the eggplant.
Cooking longer or shorter depends on your personal preferences. I also make it a little different if we are going to eat it by itself or with fish or something else. In the first case I don’t cook it so long and the texture is more like in the images, you recognize eacg vegetable easily. In the second case, samfaina can be cooked down to even an almost marmalade like mixture, with many different degrees of consistency in between.
If you let the samfaina rest for a while, it tastes even better.
It admits freezing well, so you can also cook it a large quantity and freeze it for later.
Some people like to roast the vegetables.
The amounts I give you in the samfaina recipe are indicative. This is a recipe that admits experimentation and variations depending on your taste or love for one vegetable over the other or one consistency over the other.
How you can eat Catalan ratatouille
- With fish, chicken, meat and rice, which are the traditional ways
- As a sole vegetarian or vegan course, a new way of eating samfaina
- With pasta, brown rice or even a salad (new)
- As “coca de samfaina,” the Catalan pizza (traditional)