I was at a calçotada, a Catalonian festival where you eat a ridiculous amount of calçots.
“What are calçots?” you ask. Surprisingly, they’re onions. I say surprisingly because it’s weird to think of Catalans throwing a party where they eat buckets full of scallions.
And it was at this onion carnival when I fell in love. Locals were eating from plates piled high with barbecued green onions, peeling them like bananas and eating them whole. But before they dangled those sweet fleshy onions into their gaping mouths, they dragged them through salsa romesco.
Copying my hosts, I did the same. And from the first moment that this chunky orange sauce touched my tongue, I knew I was in love.
Tomatoes, smoky dried peppers, toasted almonds and olive oil… romesco is the mix of everything that’s great about Catalan cuisine. And it’s not only served with onions!
In Tarragona, home of romesco, this sauce is served with everything. You’ll find it with grilled fish and meat, roast veggies, and as a spread on sandwiches. It makes all of them taste better!
Now that I’m hooked on romesco, I make it at least once a week. I use a food processor when I’m short on time, but the old ways are best. Smashing everything together with a mortar and pestle gives you a chunky sauce with bags of character. You can use a blender, but it just doesn’t taste the same.
Try it for yourself with my authentic recipe for romesco sauce! If you can’t find the nora peppers, you can substitute any other sweet, dried pepper. A traditional romesco sauce recipe won’t be spicy. Avoid anything too hot!
Romesco Sauce Recipe (Salsa Romesco)
Salsa romesco makes everything better! Add this traditional Catalan romeso sauce made of tomatoes, peppers, and almonds to grilled meats and fish as well as vegetables.
Prepare the nora peppers the night before by submerging them in room-temperature water and leaving them to re-hydrate.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with foil. Core and halve the tomatoes and place them on the tray, cut side down, along with half of the head of garlic, drizzled with olive oil. Roast in the oven for an hour, or until the tomatoes are wrinkly and the garlic is soft to the touch.
Meanwhile, remove the nora peppers from the water. Take a paring knife and scrape away the skin, and then remove the stems and seeds.
Once the tomatoes and garlic have finished roasting, remove from oven and let cool. Leaving the oven on the same heat, quickly toast the almonds for about 5 minutes, or just starting to brown. Give the tray a shake if some look to be browning faster than others.
Allow everything to cool to room temperature. Using a mortar and pestle, smash the roasted garlic along with 2 cloves of raw garlic, adding more to taste. Smooth to a paste.
Add the bread and moisten with the sherry vinegar. Smash to a paste. Add the almonds and crush, smoothing to a rough paste.
Peel off the skin from the roast tomatoes and add them to the mortar along with the flesh from the nora peppers. Smash to a rough paste, and then add the olive oil and mix until combined. (You can add more olive oil if it looks too chunky). Add salt and more vinegar, to taste.
You can use peeled hazelnuts instead of almonds, or a mix of both.
If you’re in a hurry, you can boil the nora peppers for 15 minutes rather than soaking them overnight. It’s not quite the same, but it’s much faster!
If you prefer to use a blender or food processor, combine the ingredients in the same order as for the mortar and pestle. You’ll get a less chunky sauce, and I think a less tasty one as well!