Romesco sauce

Calçots and salsa romesco

This is a truly classic Catalan sauce. Pounded nuts, usually almonds, are a strong feature of Catalan cooking, used to thicken sauces, whether savoury or sweet. Romesco sauce is very versatile: you can serve it with plainly grilled or baked fish, for example. Or steak. Or even escalivade. A very traditional combination is with calçots, young green onions that are grilled over an open fire in winter and early spring. They’re served on a roof tile to keep them warm, and eating them (with your fingers) is a messy business; when I ate them in a restaurant, I was provided with a bib!

It’s an uncooked sauce which is ridiculously easy to make — it will take you five minutes if you use a jar of peppers and a food processor or blender. I used the method in this video, substituting salt for the anchovies. Anchovies are not traditional, and they make the sauce unsuitable for vegetarians.

1 medium jar grilled red peppers (or grill and peel your own)
2-4 cloves garlic (depending on size and taste)
about 30 toasted almonds
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs sherry vinegar (wine vinegar will do at a pinch, but use less to start with)
1/2 tsp pimentón picante or chili flakes
salt (be generous)

Heat the olive oil in a small pan. Halve or quarter the garlic cloves and saute them gently, for maybe a minute — they should not brown. Set aside to cool a little. Toast the almonds in a dry pan, without letting them burn. I used ready-toasted, unblanched almonds, which gave my sauce a rather rustic look — fine for the calçots we were eating it with. If you want something more refined, without black specks, use blanched (peeled) almonds. Drain and rinse the peppers.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl (if you’re using a stick blender) or the food processor or blender. Pulse at first, to break up the nuts. Then process until you reach the desired texture — either a bit lumpy like mine, or smoother. Taste and adjust seasoning — you might want a bit more vinegar or salt, or if it’s too thin you can add more almonds.

Ideally, set aside for a few hours to let the flavours mature, but it’s fine served straight away.

Note: you can add a couple of peeled, seeded tomatoes to this, in which case it becomes salvitxada.

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