Romesco is a classic Catalan sauce based on pulverised almonds and hazelnuts, dried sweet peppers and tomatoes and is surely one of the worlds great recipes. Noone is sure where it originated; local tradition says that it’s of Roman origin (hence its name), others think it was a Celtic dish while some believe it was a Phoenician concoction. The learned of Tarragona (the old Roman capital and where the sauce is from) claim that a representative of the city offered it to Jaume I the Conqueror and king of Aragon, when he visited the region after his victory in Majorca in 1232, and that by the end of the 13th century, it was common among local fishermen.
However, the only problem with these hypotheses is that the single most important ingredient of the sauce, the one without which it would not be Romesco, is the Nyora pepper, and peppers, an import from the New World, weren’t planted in Catalonia until the 16th century. Truth is it was probably born sometime in the 19th after which its legend grew. Good story though.
And so to the sauce. Nyora peppers aren’t bountiful in Ireland so I use regular red bell peppers or sweet Ramiro peppers instead. Either way this is a delicious version of the sauce which is fantastic on grilled tuna, as a sauce for shrimp and lobster or over potatoes, green beans or broccoli.
180 ml extra virgin olive oil
165 g sliced almonds
3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 slice white bread, trimmed and cut into pieces – 20 g
7 large red peppers
3 small canned whole tomatoes, seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Spanish smoked paprika or regular Spanish paprika
Roast your red peppers over an open flame or in the oven until they’re well charred on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to cool and then strip off all the burned skin from the peppers. Wipe clean. Remove seeds and discard. Set aside the cleaned peppers.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over moderate heat until shimmering. Add almonds, bread and garlic. Cook until bread just begins to turn golden. Immediately remove from heat. When bread cubes are completely golden, drain, reserving oil.
Place cleaned red peppers, bread cubes, garlic, almonds, tomatoes and salt in a blender. Add half of the reserved oil and the sherry vinegar and blend until smooth. Add cayenne, smoked paprika and blend. With the blender running on low, slowly add the remaining oil until the sauce is completely smooth. Check and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Another version of this sauce can be made with hazelnuts or indeed a mixture of both almonds and hazelnuts.