People always enjoy what they can connect with. This is important to me, both as a chef, and an eater! This might explain my immense enjoyment upon recently devouring the fire burnt, sweet spring onions (calçots) that the people of Catalonia have turned into a festival, or as they call it, a calçotada. The raw-with-nature experience of eating something impossibly clean with your hands while outside in the sun, reminds me of summer barbecues in Canada. After the leek-like onions had their first layer burnt, they were wrapped in newspaper so that they finish steaming. To serve: just peel the charred layer away, revealing a clean, self-braised, tender and sugary onion.
The whole process was managed by a grandfather who could barely walk. He still insisted on managing the fire and onions, a clear example of the importance of tradition and connection. All the while, the grandmother could be heard hammering away through the kitchen window with a mortar and pestle. She was making the dipping sauce for this delicious treat: Romesco sauce, a Catalan recipe for an acidic, nutty, spicy and garlicky tomato concoction.
Since then, I have been on the lookout for any recipe that resembles this precious orange sauce.
Although I have tasted and made this sauce many times in Canada, nothing has ever compared to this grandmother’s secret recipe! This pursuit was completed after a couple weeks in Echaurren. We needed Romesco sauce for Francis Paniego‘s bistro-restaurant across the street, Bistrot Comilón, which only opens on weekends. I don’t know where he got the recipe but it is very close to the one I tried on the Catalonian hillside made with the working hands of a wine maker’s grandmother. The key to this precious recipe is a charcoal burning oven. The roasted/smokey flavor can only be obtained using the real thing. In Catalonia, they often use wood fireplaces, but in Echaurren this is achieved using a charcoal burning, red dragon of an oven that gets very hot.
5 vine ripe tomatoes
1 whole bulb garlic
100g toasted almonds
2 dehydrated peppers
15-25ml Jerez sherry vinegar
Pinch of salt
125ml Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pieces fried bread
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
To make, wrap the tomatoes and garlic individually in aluminum foil and roast in a really hot charcoal oven or directly on the fire. Once roasted, depending on your preferences, you can either use a blending device for a smoother, refined sauce or a mortar and pestle for a more chunky, rustic texture. Start blending, adding the almonds, peppers, paprika and olive oil and mix together. Season to taste with salt, vinegar, and more paprika.
This is a great sauce for other uses too, including dipping roasted vegetables or as a pairing with meat. But nothing is as delicious as those spring onions scorched on the fire and dipped in Romesco sauce.
Text: Miles Pundsack-Poe, participant in 2012 ICEX Young Chefs Culinary Scholarship in Spain.
Photos: Miles Pundasack-Poe, ICEX.