Salsa Romesco is a thick, luscious, smoky, garlicky puree of peppers and nuts from from the Mediterranean port city of Tarragona, in Northeastern Spain’s Catalonia Region. It’s one of those sauces that is so delicious that it can transform even the most pedestrian food items into something special. I bet even an old tennis shoe would be delicious if you slathered enough Salsa Romesco on it. It’s really that good.
Legend has it that Salsa Romesco was developed by fishermen as a sauce for fish. But in the springtime in Tarragona it’s also famously used as a dip for fire roasted calçots, which are a kind of scallion that are a bit milder than the green onions we typically eat in North America. I did eventually find a source for fresh calçots to throw my own backyard calçotada. But they’re not always so easy to find. That being the case, I’ve learned that roasted leeks are a surprisingly good substitute. I absolutely love them myself and therefore highly recommend that you try it. It works really well as a tapas course or appetizer this way. Just cut your leeks lengthwise, coat them in some olive oil, and roast them in the oven, or better yet, over an open fire outside, until they’re caramelized and crispy. Then dunk them into the Romesco. It’s amazingly good, and way better than an old tennis shoe.
Like many traditional Mediterranean dishes of this type, there are plenty of recipe variations. At its core, Romesco is made with peppers, garlic, olive oil, and nuts (usually almonds, pine nuts, or hazelnuts). Some versions thicken the sauce with bread crumbs, and others add roasted tomatoes and/or onions. It’s also common to add a bit of vinegar, which is wise in my opinion. A bit of acid really accentuates the pepper flavor. What’s also key in my view–especially if you’re not roasting your peppers over an open fire to obtain a similar effect–is to add smoked Spanish paprika. Trust me on this. The smoky element is one of the things that make this sauce so intoxicatingly good.
My version makes use of ingredients that are readily available where I live, and this is how I recommend you make yours as well. I used dry ancho chilis and fresh red bell pepper. And given that most of the hazelnuts produced in the United States come from Oregon and Washington, and that most of the almonds come from California, using hazelnuts and almonds was a no-brainer.
This is another Mediterranean classic that is both vegan and paleo-friendly. If you make it let me know what ingredients you used. And by the way, if you like Mediterranean roasted red pepper and nut sauces, you might also give Aleppo’s famous Muhummara a try. It’s also delicious and the family resemblance seems pretty strong.
- 1 Head of Garlic
- 3 Medium Tomatoes
- ¼ Cup, Plus 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- ½ Cup Toasted Slivered Almonds
- ¼ Cup Toasted Hazelnuts
- 1 Dried Ancho Chile, Stemmed, Seeded and Re-hydrated
- 1 Teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
- ¼ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).
- Cut the top off of the head of garlic to expose the individual cloves within. Coat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Also coat the tomatoes with another tablespoon of olive oil. Place tomatoes and garlic on a sheet pan and roast in the oven. When the tomatoes are soft and just starting to brown, remove them (about 30 minutes). Continue to cook the garlic until it’s caramelize, about 10 minutes more.
- On a gas stove top, or with a torch, char the exterior of the red pepper until completely black and blistered. Place pepper into a paper bag and seal the top to steam it for at least 10 minutes. Remove the charred skin, stem, and seeds.
- Toast the nuts in a dry skillet.
- In a food processor, add the garlic, the ancho chili, the remaining olive oil, and the nuts. Pulse until nuts are pulverized.
- Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.