Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce: Shortcut to Great Flavor

Today, I am not sharing how to make a traditional Romesco sauce.  I am not telling you where to find the nyora peppers used in Catalonia to make the traditional sauce.  I won’t be letting you know how to hand grind it in the sauce with  mortar and pestle.  So the end result today will not be what the fishermen in Tarragona Spain whip up to serve on their catch.

Instead, what I will be sharing is a modified Romesco sauce that you can easily make at home.  The recipe below shares many of the flavors of the authentic Romesco sauce, but it is different.  But different doesn’t make it a poor substitute.  In fact, today’s Romesco is excellent and goes well with all sorts of summer foods.  

I’m not even sure that what we are making is a “sauce”.  Perhaps it is a dip, or a spread, It goes on fish — which is where it started.  But it is equally at home on roast vegetables.  Or tossed on pasta as if a red pepper pesto.  It pairs well with — well, just about anything.  The deep, rich, sweet smokey flavor of Romesco is in a class by itself.  You have to include this sauce in your basic kitchen arsenal.  I know you will find yourself returning to it again and again!  But since there isn’t really a one size fits all description, we’re going to stick with “sauce” for the purpose of this post.  

Romesco Sauce on Grilled Veggies
Romesco on Roasted Veggies
Easy Romesco

This sauce is so good, and so versatile, I want it to be easy and accessible for you to try to make at home.  For that reason, the Romesco sauce from today’s recipe is a ‘quick’ Romesco sauce.  It is made from canned tomatoes and jarred roasted peppers.  That means someone else has done the hard part.  Pre roasted veggies  save you the long process of fully roasting each yourself. 

I won’t deny that isn’t quite the same as a slow roasting farm fresh vegetables.  Nothing quite beats that flavor.  Perhaps in a future post, I will put together a ‘long form’ Romesco sauce.  But not today.  I won’t be hand grinding in a mortar with a pestle.  I won’t be hand toasting the nuts in a saute pan.  Sure, I’ll sacrifice some flavor, but not very much. It will still be delicious.  Sometimes what you are looking for is a relatively quick solution that is “almost” as good. 

That is where my ‘abbreviated’ Romesco sauce comes in.  I still use roasted vegetables, but I let someone else do the roasting.  I do roast the nuts and bread myself. Those, however, take considerably less time than slow roasting tomatoes.  I let the food processor do the heavy lifting of mixing everything together.  And I make a large batch and freeze some to use later, because I can’t use all that I make at one time.  So when I want more, it is even quicker than when I make it.

Start with the Basics

Let’s start with understanding the basics of what goes into a Romesco sauce.  Knowing the basic ingredients helps to understand the shortcuts are.  The list of ingredients isn’t long, but they all play an essential part in the ultimate flavor.  Except for the shortcuts spelled out here — don’t skip anything.  Sure, play with the proportions until it suits your taste, but don’t eliminate anything.

The key ingredients of Romesco sauce are nuts, tomatoes, peppers, bread, garlic, smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton), sherry vinegar, and of course olive oil.  And salt and pepper to taste.  That’s it.  All the dry ingredients get roasted to bring out their flavor.  In fact, the roasting is THE key ingredient in Romesco that can’t be skipped.  Without the enhanced flavors from roasting, your sauce will be flat and uninspiring.  But roasting can take a long time.  And that is where the shortcuts come in.  Let’s look at them all below and use them to our advantage.

Romesco Sauce Ingredients

I start with a 15 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes.  Doesn’t matter if they are diced, whole or chopped.  The important thing is that they are fire roasted.  This is the key shortcut in this abbreviated Romesco Sauce.   As we know from the Roasted Tomatoes in Balsamic Recipe, tomatoes take upward of an hour.  The long slow roasting is great for building a good depth of flavor and sweetness. That is what you are going for here using pre-roasted tomatoes.  Skipping this and just using any can of diced tomatoes and you mis the point.  You aren’t going to get a sauce with characteristic rich flavor.  Remember, we’re taking shortcuts here by leveraging good ingredients.  Don’t skimp on the fire roasted tomatoes. 

Jarred Peppers

The next key player in the shortcut Romesco Sauce in Roasted Red Peppers.  Again, I short cut it here and use jarred roasted peppers.  While roasting a red pepper doesn’t take as much time as tomatoes, it is still time, and more effort.  Once the pepper is roasted, then you have to peel the charred skin.  That can get messy.  Let the jarred pepper be your friend here.  One more thing — believe it or not, I’m not suggesting a pequillo pepper in this case.  A standard roasted red pepper will do.  

So there are your short cuts.  But you still have to do a little work.  You will need to toast the nuts, bread and garlic.  Luckily, this can all be done at once on a single sheet pan and takes only about 15 minutes.   Set your oven to 350 and let it pre heat.  While the oven is heating, get your sheet pan ready.  Spray it with cooking spray or line with parchment.  Then assemble the ingredients. 

Start with the bread.  I used two slices of baguette I had left over from a different meal.  You can use any bread that you like, but this is a great place to get rid of some bread that may be getting a bit stale.   

Next some garlic — I ended up using two cloves in my Romesco Sauce.  Use as much or as little as you like   Whatever you think you’re going to use, go ahead and add an extra clove or two here.  You can always find a use for roasted garlic.  And if you do want to add it to the sauce, it is already done.

Add Nuts to Romesco

Finally, the nuts.  Traditionally, Romesco Sauce is made with almonds, or a blend of almonds and hazelnuts.  The nuts are a critical ingredient in Romesco sauce . They add body to the sauce, and a different taste than all the other ingredients.  They become the a note all their own in symphony of palate.  The nutty flavor is one of the hallmarks of Romesco sauce.  

Use what you like — I use only almonds in today’s recipe to keep it simple.  I usually use a 50/50 of almonds and hazelnuts.  If you prefer walnuts, go for it.  Just remember the flavor will be different.  Not bad or better. Just different.  And of course if you are concerned about a nut allergy, there ARE recipes for nut free Romesco to be found.  I don’t cover that here, so my recipe is NOT SAFE FOR NUT ALLERGY.  

I used blanched almonds – that is whole almonds with the skins removed. If you can’t find blanched almonds, they are easy to do yourself.  I know, that takes away from the ‘simple weeknight dinner’ idea if you add another step.  The thing is, if you have almonds with the skins on, you should be blanching them anyway.  Once blanched, tossed with a VERY LITTLE olive oil, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, they make one heck of a snack.  In fact, roasted almonds are a common tapas in Spain.  Instructions for balancing can be found in the note on the recipe.  

Garlic Almonds and Toast

Put all three — the bread, garlic and nuts — on the baking sheet next to each other.  Slip into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.  Don’t walk away though – you are going to quickly check this every 5  minutes to make sure nothing burns.  Roasted is good flavor.  Burned is not.  

Toasted Ingredients

What you are looking for in nice toasted bread, browned garlic, and golden browned almonds.  They may not be finished at the same time.  No worries.  Pull what is done off the sheet, and put it back in the oven to finish the rest.  When they are all done, let cool for a few minutes and get your food processor out.

You’re just about done.  Load up the bowl of your food processor with the tomatoes, pepper, bread, garlic and nuts.  Turn it on and let it run for 30 seconds or so to get started.  The we will add the final ingredients — the liquids and the seasoning! Have you olive oil, sherry vinegar, smoked paprika and salt and pepper ready to go.

Let’s start with the sherry vinegar.  I think you all know by now how important I think vinegar is, especially sherry vinegar.  I think it is the secret ingredient here.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar, go ahead and substitute red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.  The taste won’t be quite the same, but it will work.  Whichever you have, start with 2 teaspoons.  That may not be enough, but you can’t take it back out once it is in.  So add a little at a time until you get where you want to be flavor wise.  

Ingredients in Food Processor

I would also start with a couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika.  I really like a smoky flavor to foods, and so I tend to go heavy on it here.  You might find you want less, and that is OK.  Same thing with salt and pepper — as always, these are to taste.  I’d start with a half a teaspoon of salt, and quarter teaspoon of pepper.  Remember, the canned tomatoes probably bring a bit of salt of their own, so you don’t want to over do it here.  

Add Oil and Vinegar

For oil, I would add a quarter cup to start.  I would add this by running the food processor and slowly pouring it into the spout in a thin steam.  This allows the oil to be fully incorporated into the Romesco sauce.  Once you’ve added the quarter cup, you can add more if you’d like to get a good consistency.

For the oil, vinegar, paprika and S&P, these are your ‘flavor controls’.  You will be adding each of these a little at a time until you get the flavor and consistency you like.  You should be stopping the machine and tasting frequently at this point.  Test and experiment.  You can’t be wrong.  

Romesco Sauce in Food Processor
How to use Romesco

Now that we’ve made this wonderful Romesco sauce, what can we do with it?  And do I really need this much?   

Romesco sauce was originally created to go with fish, and it does.  So don’t be afraid to use some the next time you have some grilled fish.  But is also goes well with beef, pork and chicken.  You can add it to any instead of a BBQ sauce when grilling.  Or you can use some to dress some pork chops you’ve just cooked.  It goes with just about any kind of meat.

Romesco Suace on Sandwich
Romesco Sauce also works nicely as a Sandwich Spread

Romesco sauce works beyond meat too.  Vegetables get a nice boost from it sauce.  One of my favorite ways to use it is to toss some fresh grilled veggies in a small bowl of sauce and fully coat them.   A mix of grilled zucchinis, peppers, and tomatoes with Romesco Sauce is a great summer side or vegetarian main.    You an also use as a dip with crudites or chips as an appetizer. 

Romesco Sauce as Dip

Romesco sauce is an excellent pasta sauce.  I like to toss with raviolis or tortellinis as well!  Make a pasta salad with tortellinis, and some grilled veg and Romesco Sauce for a new family favorite.

Romesco Sauce on Pasta
Freezes well

The point is — Romesco sauce is really really versatile.  You will find yourself using it over and over again as a quick flavor boost to all manner of foods.  So yes, you can use as much as this recipe makes.  What you don’t use can be frozen to use later.  I like to freeze mine in muffin tins.  A single tin will hold about ½ cup, which is a good amount for most uses. Pour them in the tins, and once frozen take the blocks of Romesco sauce and store in a zippy bag in the freezer.  

Romesco Sauce to Freeze

When you thaw it, you may find that it separated a bit.  Give it a vigorous stir with a fork or whisk and it should come right back together.  If need be, add a drop more oil or two.  

So there you have it.  One of the most versatile and flavorful ‘sauces’ you can make.  Romesco sauce wins on so many levels, it’s hard to imagine a time before I used it in my kitchen.  I hope you give it a try and let me know how it goes.  Drop a comment below or hit me up on Instagram.  Whatever you choose, enjoy it!

Romesco Sauce

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course, Salad, Tapas
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Spanish
Keyword: Garlic, paprika, pepper, Tomato
Ingredients
  • 1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 large roasted red pepper from a jar
  • 2 slices left over bread such as baguette cubed
  • ½ cup blanched almonds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 TBS sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 TBS sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350oF/180oC
  • Place almonds, garlic and bread on a lined baking sheet
  • Toast the items on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Bread should be toasty, garlic just starting to show color, an nuts lightly browned
  • In the work bowl of a food processor, add fire roasted tomates, red pepper, toasted bread, garlic and almonds.
  • Pulse the food processor 5 – 6 times to begin combining ingredients.
  • Add ½ of smoked paprika and ½ of sherry vinegar
  • Turn the food processor and let run until beginning to turn into a paste
  • Stop and taste. You may choose to add more paprika or vinegar
  • Turn on food processor and while running slowly pour in olive oil until your desired consistency is reached.
  • Check again for flavor and salt, pepper, additional paprika or vinegar to taste.

Notes

You may not use all the vinegar, olive oil or paprika called for here.  Or you may use more.  This is really where you get to fine tune this to your specific tastes.  The amounts given are only guidelines.  
Freezing This Romesco Sauce freezes well.  Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and spoon your sauce into each muffin cup.  Place in freezer and let freeze until solid.  Once frozen, pop the Romesco Sauce “muffins” out of the tin, and place in zippy bag to freeze.  To use, take a single “muffin” out of the freezer and let thaw.  If necessary, whisk to recombine ingredients.  
How to Blanch Almonds.  If your almonds still have the skin on them, you will need to blanch them first.  To blanch, fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add your unblanched almonds and bring back to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and leave the almonds for five minutes. When the time is up, transfer them to a colander and run cold water over them. When they are hot enough to handle, grab on and pinch it between your fingers. The almond should pop out, and the skin will be left behind. And there they are — blanched almonds.

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