Thursday, July 26, 2012

Salsa Romesco

Whenever I'm in Spain in the spring, my family has a good old-fashioned calçotada--several boxes of young onions charred over a roaring fire which eat by peeling off the charred skin, dipping it in romesco sauce, tilting our heads back and going for it.  (We have bibs for the whole affair, don't worry...) While the freshly charred onions are delicious, what I always look forward to most is the fantastic romesco sauce my aunt makes.  In my CSA this week I got leeks and eggplant and thought that they too would go fantastically with romesco sauce, so I thought I'd get to work.

It's actually surprisingly simple, so I more or less can show you step by step what to do.


1/2-1 sweet onion
1 red pepper
6 cherry tomatoes
2 tsp sweet paprika (hungarian paprika is fine, just avoid smoked paprika)
1 dried nyora (this pepper is exceedingly hard to find, unfortunately--if you live in the bay area I found mine at the oxbow market in Napa, CA.  Otherwise, substitute by using 2 tbsp sweet paprika instead)
1/2 cup blanched almonds and hazelnuts, mixed.  (You could also use only one or only the other, but where's the fun in that)
1/2 head of garlic
olive oil
red wine or sherry vinegar

Under a broiler, charr the outsides of the onion, red pepper, and cherry tomatoes.  Turn the red pepper a few times as you go, to get all sides nice and charred.  Took about 45 minutes total.

(This is a basic escalivada, fyi.  In Catalunya, this is a pretty common dish; sometimes with eggplant or asparagus.  Just peel the skins (see below), drizzle with olive oil, and serve--hot or cold.)

When they're ready, take them out and cover them tighly with tinfoil to let them steam for 5-10 minutes.  You know its been enough time if the skin of the red pepper slips off easily.  

Peel the skins off of the red pepper, tomatoes, and onion.  Cut off the ends of the onions, squeeze out the pepper's seeds, and, if you want, squeeze out the tomato seeds.  My aunt does, I didn't. 

(Unless you've got "kitchen hands", you might want to let everything cool a bit first)

While you're waiting for the peppers, tomatoes, and onions to steam themselves, peel some garlic.  Im a fan of the smash and peel method.

Drizzle some olive oil over the peeled garlic before throwing them in the oven.  (If you don't have a garlic roasting ceramic thing, just make a foil pouch for them and throw that in the oven.) 

I put them in for about ten minutes--I just wanted to take away the worst of the bite, but really like raw garlic's zing.  You can (and most do) roast them for 30min to an hour.  If you do, no need to peel them first; you can do that after.)

Your kitchen may be a bit of a mess at this point...

Gather your other ingredients.  That squat little pepper by the garlic?  That's a nyora.  They're sweet peppers, not spicy.

Soak it for 10 minutes or so, until soft (probably good to get it started before the garlic comes out, I just wanted my photos to have continuity.)  I had to impale it to let the air bubbles out so that it wouldn't just float on top.

Grind up some salt with your paprika--or you know, use finer grained salt to begin with.  Blend it all together in a blender until desired texture--I personally wish I'd made it smoother, but my sweetie liked the texture it added to the veggies, so there you have it.  Add vinegar and salt to taste.  Thin the sauce, if you need to, with olive oil.  I like it thick and creamy, so I didn't add any oil past what was on the garlic.  Plus; I figure adding less oil means I can eat more in one go, right?

Makes about, uh.. a cup.  

Tip: Save the other half of the onion, and whatever extra cherry tomatoes you roasted, to try it right away.  Roasted onion and romesco is the closest I've had to calçots and romesco.  

Calçots may look a lot like leeks, but they don't taste like them.  That said, leeks and romesco is also delicious... 

Speak of the devil...  You want to trim these, slice them in half (or quarters if they're big, but these were itty bitty) and soak them for about as long as you can--shaking them a whole bunch along the way.  Leeks trap a lot of soil in them, so you want to get that out.

Aren't these the cutest baby eggplant?  I was taught to always salt my eggplant and leave them for up to an hour.  The salt soaks up the bitterness, I was taught.  You wipe away the salt afterwards (it turns a blue-green, which I like to think is the bitterness itself) and roast them with some olive oil drizzled on top.  In case if you didn't guess, they're already salted at that point...

I start cut side up, covered with foil, roast about an hour, turn over, add the leeks and roast another 30 minutes.  The eggplant will be tender and creamy and the leeks will melt in your mouth.

Top it off with some of that romesco sauce you made and you're good to go.  (We eat it as a "primer plat"--first course, basically.  Second is usually meat; but that's your prerogative.)

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