The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.”
― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French Gastronome & lawyer (1755- 1826)
My friend Susan Wells brought a bowl of bright red, chunky sauce surrounded with crackers and toast points to the garden club potluck. Smothering a cracker with the mixture, I popped it in my mouth. A taste explosion! Bright, tomato and sweet pepper flavors with rich undertones, a pop of acidity, hints of charred roasting, and just the perfect amount of garlic and savory seasonings.
“Romesco sauce”, Susan explained to me. A prolific gardener, she often prepares Romesco sauce in high summer, with freshly roasted sweet bell peppers and cherry tomatoes. This adaptation was her winter version, prepared with pantry items and a quick blend in the food processor.
It was love at first bite! And Susan graciously sent along the recipe.
Romesco sauce was a new taste sensation and unknown culinary territory for me. A bit of research revealed that this lusty sauce or, “salsa romesco”, originated from Tarragona, in Northeastern Spain. Area fishermen made Romesco in a mortar and pestle to eat with the local catch of the day, often cod. As with all locally inspired cuisines, there are many family variations.
Traditional recipes combine roasted red peppers with ground almonds, olive oil, and vinegar to make a smooth, rich and nutty sauce that tastes great even simply spread on a slice of rustic bread. Some versions use a combination of toasted nuts, usually almonds and hazelnuts. I substituted pecans for the hazelnuts, another time I’ll try pine nuts.
The body of the sauce usually includes fresh, sun-ripened, sweet tomatoes, also roasted to enhance the flavor. Utilizing just pantry ingredients, I captured the flavors from a jar of my roasted Blush tomato sauce. Susan’s formula calls for a pint of cherry tomatoes.
While roasting the garlic provides a mellower flavor, I like the sharper taste of fresh garlic. In many traditional recipes, flour or ground, stale bread may be added as a thickener or to provide texture. Try adding fresh herbs like mint or fennel fronds, particularly when serving with fish.
Romesco sauce truly shines with seafood. We enjoyed it over baked haddock one night for supper and spread it on toasted rolls for a grilled halibut sandwich at lunch. I even mixed Romesco with chopped razor clams and served them up with garlic toast points for a localvore special.
Romesco is a very popular sauce in Spain, especially in the Catalonia region. Tasty with meats like lamb and chicken, or as a side for vegetables, the bright flavors of Romesco sauce are addictive.
The discovery of this dish was wonderful with my pantry items. I can hardly wait to try Romesco sauce with just-picked, perfectly ripe tomatoes and peppers, wood roasted with garlic, herbs from the garden, and freshly caught, Crockett Cove fish. That could be heaven.