Romesco sauce has its origins in Catalonia, Spain, first used by the fishermen of Tarragonia to accompany their daily catch. The wonderful thing about romesco is that it highlights flavour profiles of a particular main, allowing the distinctive character of the “star” to shine, without overpowering it. In this way, Romesco is to main courses what Coenraad V Bos, the great piano accompanist was to sopranos. Bos, who titled his autobiography, “The Well-tempered accompanist.” knew his role as the perfect partner.
A traditional Spanish treat is grilled calcots with romesco, but grilled leeks, radicchio or scallions also work well with it. Asparagus is king at this time of year and what better way to prepare it than on the grill? After you’ve raked it over the coals, serve it with a side of this wonderful vegan sauce.
Although there are numerous variations, the key ingredients are ground nuts-usually hazelnuts, almonds, or both- tomato, garlic and red pepper. I have never had a romesco that was prepared the same way; of course one of the joys of cooking is tinkering with recipes and making them your own.
The sauce itself is served at room temperature, slathered on the main course. If, like me, you hate the word slather, you can wipe it on.
It is also great as a dip with bread, or a spread for sandwiches. Here is a sample recipe, yours for the tinkering.
1 large tomato, cored
1 dried ancho chile
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel while warm
2 tablespoons blanched almonds
1 (1/2-inch-thick) slice firm white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup drained bottled pimientos, rinsed
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Line a small baking pan with foil.
- Roast tomato in pan until tender and skin peels off easily, about 30 minutes.
- While tomato is roasting, slit chile open lengthwise and discard stem and seeds, then tear chile into small pieces.
- Heat oil in an 8- to 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then add chile and cook, stirring, until fragrant and chile turns a brighter red, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer chile with a slotted spoon to a heatproof bowl.
- Add hazelnuts to skillet along with almonds, bread, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until bread and garlic are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mixture (including oil) to chile in bowl and cool slightly.
- Peel tomato, then coarsely chop and transfer (with juices) to a food processor. Add bread and chile mixture, pimientos, water, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and purée until smooth. Thin with water if desired and season with salt.