A pasta sauce full of punchy flavour and versatility

Romesco is particularly good drizzled over barbecued spring onions or young leeks

This sauce is gorgeous on pizza instead of the regular tomato sauce and ideal to have on the table at a barbecue

This sauce is gorgeous on pizza instead of the regular tomato sauce and ideal to have on the table at a barbecue

 

Romesco has to be one of my favourite dips and sauces to have in the fridge. Beloved for it’s punchy flavour and versatility. You can swirl it into soup, mix it with mayonnaise for sandwiches, use it to dress pasta or dip crunchy vegetables. A bowl of al dente broccoli stems with this sauce is addictive.

It’s gorgeous on pizza instead of the regular tomato sauce and ideal to have on the table at a barbecue. It is particularly good drizzled over barbecued spring onions or young leeks. Traditionally calçot, a Catalan type of spring onion, are used and served with romesco to celebrate Calçotada. It’s a festival dedicated to the arrival of the calçot held between January and April and celebrated in the Catalan region over smoky grills lined with smouldering onions. 

This sauce is made with almonds or hazelnuts and was most often served with fish. I add fennel or tarragon when I’m serving it with seafood like simple baked hake or monkfish. The tarragon version is great with roast chicken too. I’ve used basil here as I’m serving it over pasta and it works well. 

When blending this try to keep some texture and don’t make your sauce too smooth and paste like. You still want a little crunch from the almonds and freshness from the herbs. Traditionally this would have been done with a pestle and mortar and everything would be ground together. Sometimes bread is added as a thickening agent but I feel it dilutes the flavour. 

I’ve used a jar of roasted red peppers here, it’s a real short cut. If you’re under pressure for time it means you’re much more likely to make this delicious sauce. Do try the “made from scratch” version at some stage too. Simply rub olive oil on your hands then over the peppers, place on a tray and roast at a high heat till blackened and blistering, turn occasionally. Place the hot peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with cling film. This will steam the skins off. Leave to cool then simply peel off the skins, discard the seeds and keep the precious juices for the sauce. If you’re using ready-roasted peppers in vinegar make sure you rinse them well. As a result there may be no need to add vinegar to the sauce when blending so taste it before you do. 

In this recipe I charr the tomatoes whole on a heavy based pan as if I’m about to make a Mexican salsa. It just introduces a further level of smokiness and depth of flavour.

Romesco pasta with broccoli spears

Serves 4

150g flaked almonds

250g cherry tomatoes

400g (approx. 5) red peppers, roasted 

1 tbsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar 

3 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tsp. smoked sweet paprika

Juice of 1/2 lemon

8 basil leaves

2 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley

Sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

To Serve: 500g just cooked pasta and 300g broccoli spears

Place a heavy based pan on a medium high heat. Toast the flaked almonds, in batches if necessary. Stir and move them so that they don’t burn. Some smokiness is fine though. Tip them into the bowl of a food processor. 

Increase the heat and place the whole cherry tomatoes in the pan. Leave them to blister and char a little. Place them in the food processor along with the drained red peppers, the vinegar, garlic, paprika, salt, lemon juice, herbs, and olive oil. Blitz till it forms a uniform chunky paste. Taste for seasoning. Stir the sauce through hot pasta and serve right away with the broccoli on the side.  Store any leftovers in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. 

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