Catalan Romesco Sauce is a polyvalent Catalan sauce that goes well with any grilled poultry, fish, egg or vegetable. Its main ingredients are roasted tomatoes, garlic, hazelnut, almond, a red pepper pulp with a touch of paprika. A perfect condiment for BBQ season!
A Catalan ritual
The orange and nutty sauce originates from Tarragona, about an hour south of Barcelona, Spain. The chances are… if you come visit and try any restaurant in the outskirts of the city you’ll end up with romesco sauce on your plate. It’s generally eaten with grilled meat, fish or veggies but also on their famous papas bravas with some aioli. The Catalan rural houses often have a grilling spot in their backyard where in the winter month they do calçotadas. The equivalent of a Sunday brunch… for Catalans though, the ritual consist of grilling special green onions they call calçots which resemble leeks (but taste nothing like them) and then grill some meat and veggies while sipping on good wine all afternoon long. This special onion appetizer is eaten with Catalan Romesco Sauce or a similar sauce called salvitxada (more liquid by adding tomatoes and less pepper pulp).
These onions are laborious to grow and the pride of Catalonia for a reason! The technique consist of dumping the onions directly over the fire and burning them completely. Don’t think about cleaning them up beforehand…. no! no! no! They need this layer of dirt to protect them from the flame and keep the inside moist. Once the calçots blackened, they are enveloped in a few layers of newspapers and rest for about 30 minutes to let the residual heat do the rest of the work. You end up with a delectable tender and melting core, but to get to that core… you’ll need to use your hand to pull down the burned layer off and then plop the onion directly in the romesco sauce. After all those steps, you’ll get the reward you deserve a tender and delicious onion with a nutty romesco sauce that brings it to another level.
The whole process is quite a messy one… meaning your hands are going to get dirty and if you are lucky you won’t stain anything else… On a personal note… my first calçotada was a surprise from my friend on my wedding day! White was definitely not the color for the occasion! Well, it was like a ‘trash the dress’ event, the Catalan way. Who knows… maybe it’s the secret to a happy marriage.
A great alternative
This nutty and rich sauce is the ketchup of the Catalans, they put it on everything and believe me, I’ve converted. I personally love it with green asparagus, or you could give it a try as your new ketchup in a burger. (Check my Spanish Burger recipe here). This romesco recipe version is adapted for anyone, meaning you won’t need that special pepper from Spain to make it, although I recommend searching for it, because it does give the sauce a special flair. For those worried about the whole head of garlic in there…don’t! It’s a roasted garlic that will melt like butter and become sweet, it won’t give you bad breath so.. No worries!
So let’s get those veggies roasted!
Catalan Romesco Sauce
- 5 tomatoes (ripe)
- 150 ml olive oil (extra virgin, approx.)
- 80 g almonds (roasted and skinless)
- 50 g hazelnuts (roasted and skinless)
- 50 ml white wine vinegar
- 1 small slice of dry bread (or 25g of breadcrumbs)
- 1 garlic (the whole head)
- 1 small sweet red pepper (or bell)
- 1 tsp sweet and/or spicy paprika
- salt and pepper
- Start by cutting the garlic head into two and fold it in aluminium paper.
- Add the tomatoes and pepper in the oven to max temperature and cook for 20 minutes, or until skin burns, turning mid-way.
- Leave the garlic head in the oven for an extra 10-15 minutes while the tomato and pepper cools off.
- Blend the nuts and the dry bread in a food processor, add in a bowl and reserve
- Discard the burned skin of the tomatoes and add them to the blended nuts
- With the help of a knife, scrape the inside of the pepper, discard the skin, stem and seeds and add the pulp to the mix
- By now the garlic is tender so unwrap it and let it cool a few minutes before squeezing it with your hands into the mix
- Add the salt, pepper, paprika, and the olive oil
- Blend until smooth
- Add the vinegar (to taste) and more olive oil until right consistency
- Check the seasoning and serve