Romesco sauce: easy, tasty, ethical and nutrient-rich
Time: prep. 10 mins
bake 30 mins
Difficulty: very easy
Yields: 4 portions
When I saw the first bell peppers of the season at the farmer’s market today, all I could think about was making romesco sauce. Yes, the typical round peppers of Calabria (south Italy) are very similar to the Spanish ones, also known as Ñoras, the most preferred ones for this sauce.
Originally from Tarragona, a town not far from Barcelona that has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2000 for its exciting archaeological site, I got to know this sauce thanks to a kind virtual friend, Susanna, a native of this amazing city.
The recipe struck me immediately because of its simplicity, its traditionality (it even dates back to the 15th century) and certainly because of its purely vegetable-based ingredients; and last but not least, because of its great culinary character: it transforms the plain tastes of natural dishes into something sensational!
However, it is impossible not to mention the great variety and richness of the functional bio-molecules it contains; in particular, beta-carotene, overflowing in tomatoes and bell peppers; glutathione, kaempferol and quercetin, in peppers, tomatoes and onions respectively; sulfur compounds in garlic and onions; vitamin C in excellent quantities in practically all fresh ingredients, bell peppers above all; as well as many essential minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and the like from almost all the ingredients used in making it.
Moreover, considering its low cost and high level of natural glutamate (which explains why it is addictive!), romesco sauce without too much effort becomes practically one of the best and cheapest supplements.
And then I have to say, I like it because it is an anarchic recipe, in the sense that, as with its other ‘peers’ (e.g. guacamole sauce, tarator, or hummus, or babagannush), there is no single universal formulation for making romesco sauce; every family has a personal one, elaborated over the years, to be adapted to what you have at home, or to the recurring season.
So feel free to use hazelnuts, in case you don’t have almonds; or, in case you are intolerant, or your budget doesn’t allow it, simply use toasted stale bread, to give the pleasant crumbliness.
Or, in winter, those who like to respect the seasonality of food, can use red pepper paste or frozen grilled peppers, or pickled in oil, or in vinegar, (avoiding the fresh ones, imported from who knows where); just as dried tomatoes would substitute nicely for their colleagues from greenhouses (rich in pesticide residues).
Ingredients for the romesco sauce
2 large roasted red or yellow bell peppers (you can also use the jarred ones, after they have been thoroughly drained)
1 tomato, or 6 roasted cherry tomatoes (if you don’t have to turn on the oven for the peppers, you can use raw tomatoes)
60g roasted almonds and/or hazelnuts
1 slice of toasted stale bread (optional, but those intolerant to nuts may appreciate the graininess)
1 roasted onion
1-2 roasted garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
the juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon Jerez (sherry) vinegar (otherwise red wine vinegar mixed with honey or sugar)
½ teaspoon paprika (best if smoked)
½ teaspoon chilli flakes (if desired, slightly hot)
4 tablespoons of evo oil
salt, pepper to taste
From just a glance at the list of ingredients, it is immediately obvious that this is a recipe to make when you plan to turn on the oven. As I have the pleasure of cooking our daily bread every 7-10 days, along with a few trays of vegetables to use for the week’s meals, I usually double the quantities listed above (with above mentioned quantities you will get about 300g of delicious Romesco sauce) to divide them into two-three portions: one to be eaten immediately and others to be used when needed, as it can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
In case you want to opt for pre-roasted peppers, your job becomes much easier and faster, as it is not worth turning on the oven to roast just 1 tomato, 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic: use them uncooked.
These vegetables will be perfectly cooked and imbued with a deliciously smoky aroma if baked at 190 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
Then remove the outer skins of the garlic and onion and the skin and seeds of the peppers; if possible, leave the seeds and skin of the tomato: the true richness of the tomatoes lies in these ‘scraps’.
Finely chop the parsley.
Toast the almonds (or hazelnuts) in a frying pan for five minutes.
Next, chop them (mind you, they should not become flour). Here I would like to point out that for the original recipe, the roasted almonds should be peeled of their brown skin; but if you can tolerate a somewhat rough texture, I recommend leaving them intact: you will retain much of the almonds’ antioxidant power (their treasure trove of flavonoids is found mostly in the skins).
Soak the toasted slice of stale bread with sherry vinegar.
Combine all the vegetables together with the bread in a mortar, or in the container of a food processor, turning them into a puree of the consistency you like best.
Add the chopped almonds, salt and pepper, paprika and chilli pepper to taste, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Using a fork, mix well and you are ready to take it to the table or store it in the fridge. Keep in mind, however, that you have up to 6 days to consume it, otherwise straight into the freezer.
In its place of birth, romesco sauce is mainly used with fish and meat as well as to accompany the traditional calçots (fresh spring onions grilled over an open fire); nevertheless, such a good sauce actually goes divinely with almost all dishes; among my absolute favorites I would certainly say chickpea flour piadinas, or the farinata, or meatless meatballs; or as a condiment in a fresh pasta salad, or even in a barley salad.
I look forward to your original combinations.
Enjoy your salsa romesco and have a good revolution