What’s worth eating by the gallon?
According to the Catalonians, Romesco sauce.
Huge pots of the earthy, peppery Spanish sauce are consumed every April at the ‘calcotada’ festival, in Catalonia. Festival-goers dip hundreds of grilled calcots (similar to leeks) into the nutty sauce and devour them along with bottles of red wine, cava, or beer.
Sadly, I’ll miss the festival this year but I will get to go to Spain for the first time in June. In fact, my research into “all things Spain” led me to the toothsome, brick-colored sauce, and after making it three weekends in a row, I can see why the Catalan people love it so much.
The earthy flavors of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and toasted nuts are beautifully balanced with the zing of raw garlic and sherry vinegar.
The technique and ingredients are surprisingly similar to Mexican mole but the texture is much thicker and the flavor is richer with more high notes.
The sauce is traditionally made with the Nora pepper from Spain, but the pepper is difficult to find in the United States so most recipes I’ve found call for ancho. My version, inspired by a recipe from "Crazy Water Pickled Lemons" by Diana Henry, combines ancho and cascabel, which is a dead ringer for the Nora but slightly spicier. For this recipe, I use three cascabels and one ancho, which gives the sauce a combination of earthiness and mellow spice.
When I made it for the first time with grilled leeks and swordfish, I polished off my plate, and then moved to the kitchen where I started mindlessly scooping the sauce out of the bowl with my fingers, enjoying my own little calcotada festival.
Romesco Sauce with Swordfish and Grilled Leeks
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 red bell pepper
3/4 can of drained, chopped tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 red chili pepper, seeded and stemmed
1 ancho and three cascabel peppers
¼ cup almonds, toasted
¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 ounce of bread
Amount of desired swordfish and leek (for two people, I buy one pound of swordfish and four leeks)
For the sauce. Submerge and soak the ancho and cascabels in a small lid-covered container filled with very hot water for 1/2 hour. (The cascabels float to the top and the lid keeps them submerged.)
Sauté two garlic cloves in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until golden. Set aside.
Discard the crusts of the bread and fry the bread in the olive oil until golden brown. Set aside.
Toast the nuts in a dry pan until just browning. Set aside.
Broil the red bell pepper until black and blistering. Remove from the oven, cool, and peel the skin.
Remove the dried peppers from the soaking liquid, reserving two tablespoons. Stem and seed the peppers.
Combine in a food processor the soaked and drained dried peppers with two tablespoons of the soaking liquid, the fresh red chili pepper and bell pepper, the tomatoes, brown sugar, fried bread, sautéed garlic and one remaining raw clove, paprika, and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the machine on and gradually add the olive oil.
For the leeks. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice off the green parts of the leeks and the scraggly roots, but keep the solid white end that holds the leeks together. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and clean and wash them. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel, then brush the leeks with olive oil and season them generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat a grill pan for about 2 – 3 minutes until very hot. Place the leeks on the grill pan and cook for three minutes or until grill marks are black. Flip over the leeks and then place the pan in the oven and finish cooking for about 20 minutes.
For the swordfish. Brush the swordfish with olive oil and season. Cook on a very hot griddle or nonstick pan for about three minutes. Flip over the fish and cook for another two minutes. Turn the heat down and continue cooking until the fish has cooked through.
Serve the swordfish and grlled leeks with a large dollop of Romesco and bring extra to the table!