This weekend we turned off our air conditioner and slept with the windows open for the first time in months. The night temperatures may be cooling, but summer’s not over yet in Nebraska. But with every passing summer day, I can feel the frenzy of autumn approaching. I’m taking advantage of these last, carefree days of summer with an easy, versatile Spanish recipe: Red Pepper & Almond Salsa Romesco. This is the one sauce recipe that rules them all. Salsa Romesco can take on a starring role next to simply grilled fish or chicken, or can multi-task as a subtle accompaniment for veggies or sandwiches.
Originally created in the Tarrogana region of Catalonia, Romesco is one of the oldest Spanish sauces, with roots going back to when the Romans ruled Spain. The intriguing sauce is nutty, chunky, smoky, sweet and a little spicy. One bite isn’t quite enough, and you’ll find yourself reaching for another spoonful or a double dip.
The nut- and red pepper-based sauce was originally made by the region’s fisherman as a sauce for their daily catch. Many variations of the recipe for Salsa Romesco abound, but it’s usually any combination of mixed almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts, garlic red peppers, spicy chiles, vinegar and olive oil. Some versions also contain roasted tomatoes. Bread fried in olive oil is often added for thickening and texture.
Salsa Romesco was made for centuries with a mortar and pestle (mortero or almirez in Spanish). Often made of granite or marble, the mortero was a beloved fixture of the kitchen, and was used daily, often at the start of many recipes. The mortero was used not only to make Salsa Romesco, but to grind the picada for a variety of Spanish dishes, such as Catalan Fish Stew.
The popular sauce is often referred to as “Spain’s ketchup” as it pairs well with many dishes. In addition to the traditional fish and shellfish, Salsa Romesco can be served as a sauce for grilled veggies, poultry, pork, beef or lamb. At the height of Spain’s spring onion season, Salsa Romesco is served as an accompaniment for the country’s famous charred calcots (spring onions).
Salsa Romesco isn’t hard to make, but I’ve simplified the recipe with few shortcuts. Instead of a slow oven roast, I quick-charred my chiles, tomatoes and garlic in a 450 degree oven. If you have access to Spanish nyora peppers (available on Amazon and LaTienda.com), go ahead and use those, but if not, jarred roasted red peppers work equally well.
Then I threw everything—roasted nuts, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, chile, bread and pimenton—into food processor and pulsed until finely chopped. While the machine was running, I added extra virgin olive oil and then a splash or wine vinegar, and pulsed to a thick, chunky consistency.
Then I tasted and tweaked to my liking, adding a pinch of salt, another splash of vinegar for brightness and a touch of olive oil for silkiness. Use the highest quality olive oil you can bear for this recipe, it will elevate the sauce even more. We use cold-pressed olive oil from our adopted Nudo olive tree, but any high quality olive oil will work well.
With no animal products in this recipe, Salsa Romesco is vegan. You can make it gluten-free by simply leaving the bread out or substituting with a slice of your favorite gluten-free loaf.
- 3 ounces almonds, toasted
- 2 ounces pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tomato, roasted
- ½ cup roasted red peppers (or nyora peppers), chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, roasted
- ½-1 slice crusty bread (about 1 ounce), cubed and fried in olive oil
- 1 small spicy red chile, such as a serrano
- ½ teaspoon pimenton (Spanish paprika)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- Heat oven to 450 degrees and roast tomatoes, chile and garlic for 10-15 minutes or until slightly charred and softened. Allow to cool slightly and remove skin from tomatoes and garlic and stem from chile.
- In a medium skillet, toast nuts over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn.
- Cut crusty bread into cubes and fry in olive oil until golden brown.
- Add nuts, peppers, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic, chile and a few cubes of bread and pimenton to bowl of food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Scrape sides of bowl. While processor is running, add olive oil and process until smooth. Add vinegar and salt and process to combine. Taste and add additional olive oil, vinegar and salt until desired flavor is achieved.
- Serve with crusty bread for dipping or as a sauce with grilled fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, lamb, beef or vegetables.