My local Central Market just finished celebrating two weeks of everything Spanish. We had flamenco dancers and great music in the cafe; we sampled bits of cheeses and sips of wines, tiny tastes of chocolate and bacalao, and I discovered romesco sauce.
I can only say that I am sorry to be so late to this party. Oh my it is good! Now here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure that everyone’s grandmother in Tarragona makes this the “right” way, so you’ll just have to take my idea as a base line and play with it until you find the perfect blend that works for you.
Basically, what sets this aside from other tomato sauces of my acquaintance is the nuts. Most romesco recipes call for ground blanched almonds, although pine nuts or hazelnuts also show up as players. The nuts act as a thickener and also give a bit of texture to an otherwise very puréed sauce.
Central Market has a “sauce bar” where they regularly feature tubs of pico de gallo, guacamole, and another half dozen or so sauces and dips in bulk. During the Spain Fête they included romesco sauce in the offerings.
I tasted it the first day of the fist week, and promptly went and filled a small tub to take home. When that was gone (in about, um, three days – it was good, I tell you!) I bought another batch.
The second batch was completely different. Not nearly as smokey tasting, much closer to what I think of as “salsa” flavored. It was very good, but not at all like the first one.
When that was gone (and it didn’t take long) I bought a third batch. This time it tasted much more like a meatless Bolognese. Yummy, but again, not as smokey as I like.
The sweet smoked paprika and garlic make this sauce. And, the roasted quality of the tomatoes and sweet red pepper add to it as well. Somehow it doesn’t seem like the same kind of “smokey” as the wood-smoked quality of barbecue, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain it.
So, roast a few tomatoes and a red pepper either over an open flame, in the oven, or (exercising extreme caution and not really recommended) with a blowtorch, roast a head of garlic or two in the oven or over coals, pound a handful of almonds and give this a whirl!
The sauce as used in the first photo is added at the end to a dish of Israeli couscous and left-over roasted chicken. Mmmmm!The second photo shows a partially cooked risotto with ground lamb and mushrooms. I tell you, though, this sauce is fine on a hunk of bread or as a dip with carrot and celery sticks, over fish or shrimp or on top of an omelet or on that tortilla we talked about last week… versatility thy name is romesco!
Some recipes call for bread as an additional thickener. You can leave it out if you prefer a gluten-free sauce. Add more nuts, some very finely ground, and play with the thickness until you find what suits you. Add more or less garlic, more or less pepper; you get the idea.
I can pretty much guarantee you that my romesco will not taste exactly the same every time. It will depend on mood, availability of fresh garden tomatoes (oh ’tis the season!), timing (oh yes, it is better the second and third days, for sure); but here’s a “jumping off” start:
Romesco My Way
1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and roasted
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained or
about 1 lb fresh tomatoes, seeded, skinned and roasted
1 head of roasted garlic, removed from its “paper”
1/2 C ground almonds (not too finely ground)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 slice of yesterday’s bread
(red pepper flakes, optional)
Put the red pepper, tomatoes, and garlic in a blender. Add about 1/4 C olive oil and blend until smooth. Taste. Add the bread if you are using it and blend until smooth again. Taste. Mix the smoked paprika with the ground almonds. Add to the blender, mix and taste again. Add a couple of tablespoons of sherry vinegar and taste again. If it is too thick, add more olive oil or vinegar or both. If it is too thin, add more nuts or a bit more bread.
Keeps for a week (hahaha… mine never lasted that long!) covered, in the fridge.
I am not being purposely vague. Its just that this kind of sauce, like most any “pesto”, is very much about personal taste and preference. Give it a shot and let us know what you think! Me, I think mmmmmm!!