An excellent year-round sauce made from pantry staples, this rich, fragrant romesco, which was inspired by a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, is incredibly versatile. It perfectly complements a pan-seared pork chop and is equally good alongside simple roasted vegetables or even a piece of crusty artisanal bread.
You have a choice of dried chiles in this sauce, and you may need to adjust the amount of Espelette pepper to suit your spice tolerance (Espelette is often spicier than sweet paprika). When shopping for bell peppers, keep in mind that flatter ones are easier to peel after they are blackened. Try to choose peppers without prominent ridges on the bottom and a fairly uniform shape. If bell peppers aren’t in season or you’re in a time crunch, use jarred roasted piquillo peppers from Spain.
Mise en place is particularly important in this recipe because it calls for small amounts of many different ingredients, and once you get started cooking, they all come into play fairly quickly. Help yourself by measuring out each ingredient in little bowls ahead of time.
- 0.76 cup unsalted Marcona almonds or roasted regular
- almonds (see Note)
- 0.76 cup hazelnuts (see Note)
- 1½ ounces ancho or New Mexico chile (about 3 chiles)
- 2 red bell peppers, or 1 (4-ounce) jar Spanish piquillo
- 1 cup plus about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably Italian)
- 1 ounce crusty bread (such as ciabatta or artisanal
- white; piece 2 to 3 inches long and 1 inch thick)
- 1 rounded teaspoon garlic paste
- 3 tablespoons tomato purée (preferably San Marzano)
- ½ teaspoon Espelette pepper or sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
- ¾ teaspoon toasted and ground coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- 0.125 to ¼ teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 4 to 6 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds and hazelnuts on a small baking sheet and toast for 6 minutes. Carefully shake the baking sheet to ensure even toasting, then continue to toast for 2 to 4 minutes more, until the nuts are a light golden color throughout. Remove the nuts and leave the oven on. If the hazelnuts are not skinned, rub the still-hot nuts between a pair of kitchen towels to remove the skins.
- Remove the stems and shake out and discard the seeds from the dried chiles. Place the chiles on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, until they darken slightly and begin to puff up. (If they get too dark they will taste bitter, so keep an eye on them. They need only to puff up slightly to be ready. You can do this while you’re toasting the nuts if you are careful about timing and remember to remove the chiles first.) Remove the chiles from the oven and turn the oven to broil.
- Place the toasted chiles in a small heatproof bowl and pour in 1 cup of boiling water. Keep the chiles submerged by placing a small bowl or other weight on top of them. Cover the bowl and let it sit until the chiles are soft and pliable, 10 to 15 minutes.
- If using bell peppers, place them on a baking sheet and brush them with about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Place the peppers under the broiler and roast, turning them every 2 to 3 minutes as they color, until all of the skin on the peppers is blackened and begins to separate from the flesh, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the peppers to a small bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. (The longer they steam, the easier it will be to peel off the skins.) When cool, lay the peppers on a cutting board. One at a time, pull out the stem from the top and discard, scrape the inside clean of any seeds, and then flip the pepper over and peel off the skin from the outside. Reserve the peppers and any juices left in the steaming bowl. If using piquillo peppers, drain well and remove any seeds, if present.
- Place a small nonreactive sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil and the tomato paste. Let the paste cook on one side for about 1 minute, or until it starts to get a little dark, and then flip the paste over and slightly caramelize the other side, allowing the paste to dissipate into the oil. Remove the pan from the heat and set the oil-tomato mixture aside.
- Cut the crust off the bread and cut the bread into 6 uniform cubes for frying. In your smallest saucepan (1 to 2 quarts or so), heat ¼ cup of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the bread cubes, turn down the heat to low, and cook until the bread very slowly turns a deep golden hue on both sides, 15 to 20 minutes total. You want the bread cubes to be evenly crispy throughout with no softness or give. Don’t rush! If your oil isn’t truly slow and low, the sugars on the outside of the bread will caramelize and the bread will look done but the interior will still be soft. You’ll reserve the oil from this step and blend it back into the finished sauce, so it’s important that it doesn’t hit its smoke point and develop an unpleasant taste. (If it does, discard it and add a little more oil to your romesco during blending.) Using tongs, transfer the bread cubes to a paper towel to drain and cool. Set the oil aside.
- Place the rehydrated chiles and their soaking water in a food processor and process until you have a very smooth and fully combined ketchup-like purée, about 1 minute. Add more water as needed to achieve the proper consistency, but be careful not to add too much or you will dilute the final result. Push the paste through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any skin or bitter residue; you should have between ¼ and ½ cup purée. Wash the processor bowl.
- Add the fried bread, garlic paste, and nuts to the food processor and pulse until the bread is reduced to rough crumbs, 15 to 20 seconds. Remove the mixture from the processor, divide it into two batches, and set aside.
- Add ¼ cup of the strained chile purée (save any leftover purée to add to a soup or sauce), the roasted bell peppers or piquillo peppers, the fried tomato paste, the tomato purée, Espelette pepper, cumin, coriander, vinegar, fish sauce, salt, and half of the bread-nut mixture to the processor (no need to wash the bowl first) and purée for about 1 minute, or until completely smooth and fully combined. With the machine still running, stream in the remaining ¾ cup oil, plus any of the reserved oil from frying the bread (likely a few tablespoons). Transfer the purée to a small bowl and fold in the remaining bread-nut mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust with the sugar and Tabasco if desired.
- The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.