Another Keeper

I am a saucy eater... Umm, that sounded dirtier than I had intended. What I meant to say is that I really like when my food is swimming in a flavourful sauce. It probably has something to do with my Chinese background and my French training: a good sauce will make just about anything palatable, a great sauce will steal the show. And you can sop it up with a chunk of bread or a spoonful of rice.

I've been meaning to post the following recipe for a while now, but somehow the right time kept passing me by. Because, I will shamelessly admit it, I rarely make this sauce at home. In fact, when I lived in London, there was a wonderful store at Borough Market that stocked beautiful Spanish products, including jars of Romesco sauce, so 'homemade' often went by the wayside. Not that it is in any way difficult to make at home.

Romesco sauce is Spanish, one of the 'It' flavours of the moment. This is another one of those sauces one should always have on hand: it is great with just about any meat or vegetable, and truly hits the spot as a snack when slathered on a thick slice of bread or crisp croutons. It can also be slathered over potatoes, just like Deb does at Smitten Kitchen, or as a variation on the ajiaco theme.

It is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, but can be whipped up in the blink of an eye in a food processor. Having never owned a food processor, I've a few tricks to make a blender version of the sauce. This luscious sauce combines several ingredients that are currently in peak season: rotund red peppers, tubby tomatoes, and alabaster almonds.

Fresh almonds are a bit of a trial to get to, but are worth all the trouble. They have a lovely, fresh flavour that borders on sweet and milky. They are softer than dried almonds, and can easily be crushed in a mortar. Whole, fresh almonds look like stunted, green apricots; the flesh of the fruit is dry and woody. The part we eat is the kernel of the pit. If you do find green almonds -often in Middle Eastern groceries- and choose to use them for this recipe, crack open the fruits using a nutcracker or a hammer (watch your fingers!), pry out the nut, and peel off the white skin. Otherwise, just use the raw, unpeeled almonds called for in the recipe. If you do not have any kitchen appliances, finely chop all the ingredients with a knife, and substitute crunchy almond butter for the slivered almonds.

Romesco Sauce
Yields about 500ml/2 cups

2 red peppers
500 ml/2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
125 ml/ 1cup olive oil
3 Tbs sweet smoked paprika
100g/1 cup slivered almonds, with the skin on
1 tsp Sherry or red wine vinegar

Halve the red peppers, remove seeds and pith. Stuff each half with a peeled clove of garlic, and place cut side down on a baking sheet.
Roast peppers under the oven's grill until well charred.
If you have a gas stove, you can also char the whole peppers over an open fire.
Set garlic aside, and place peppers in a bowl and cover with cling wrap, leave to cool.
Chop the onion.
In a large saucepan, fry the onion and garlic over medium heat.
When the onion is fully cooked and begins to brown, add the slivered almonds.
Keep stirring so as not to burn the almonds.
Lightly toast the almonds, then stir in the crushed tomatoes. Let simmer.
Peel the cooled peppers and add to the sauce, along with the smoked paprika.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, and stir constantly.
When the olive oil starts to float up from the sauce, remove from the heat.
Purée the sauce in a food processor, blender or a mortar: do not blend until smooth, you are looking for a rough texture.
Check for seasoning. Return sauce to the saucepan, and bring to a gentle simmer.
Keep scraping the bottom of the pan until the sauce thickens a bit more, and the oil separates again.
Remove from heat, and stir the vinegar.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Romesco sauce will easily keep for a week or more in the refrigerator -if you can resist it for that long. Use  it as dip for bread and veggies; blend it into sour cream or cream cheese, and eat it with chips. Serve it as a sauce for grilled meats or vegetables. Or use it as a pesto over pasta.

Bon app'!


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