Good Taste: Romancing the Romesco

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My dears, I want to give you a gift: the perfect date night element, of the edible sort. No, I’m not about to talk about chocolate body paint. I’m going to give you a different sexy sauce to play with.

Romesco.

But don’t buy it — make it! The homemade stuff tastes a million times better, it’s so easy, and you’ll get lots of points.

I was reminded of Romesco while Laura and I were on our honeymoon this past October. We spent just one day in Paris, and after walking miles and miles, we headed toward the Marais to a recommended Catalan/Basque tapas place, Bodega 64. Inside, it was cozy, colorful, and the female waitstaff were winsomely fetching, with a slightly tough edge that I usually associate with girls who play the hell out of bass guitars.

Bodega 64’s cuisine reminded me to put romesco sauce back into rotation at home. This complex sauce also hails from the Catalan region of Spain. Once plated, it looks kind of innocuous, like tomato sauce, which soothes the picky eater contingent. Once they take a bite, they are tricked into falling in love with something that looks a lot less suave before it’s been synthesized: roasted red peppers, toasted blanched almonds, bread, tomato, smoked paprika, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil. The texture is silky, mousse-like, and it’s got a wonderful dance of flavors going on: its smoky creaminess dances with the acidity of the vinegar, tomato and peppers.

Romesco sauce is gluten-free (if you use g.f. bread), vegan, and like the perfect pair of jeans, goes with everything. I make it most with chicken, but it goes well with grilled and raw vegetables, tofu, seafood, and whole grains. This is my favorite recipe—it’s from the Prevention website, which is totally not sexy, but that’s our little secret.

The best thing about this romesco sauce? It’s easy. First, you sauté the garlic, then toast the cubed bread in the same pan. Remove that, toast up the slivered almonds, and put all of it in the food processor or blender with peppers, tomato, and the rest and let ‘er rip. In the pan, sauté your protein of choice until it’s browned, then add the sauce back into the pan and let the flavors get their groove on. Serve it with a side of mixed greens, and you’re golden—leaving lots of time to chat and canoodle.

A little more about romesco: it’s most famously served as part of a tradition called the Calçotada. You may consider yourself someone who loves onions, but in the Valls region of Spain, they put you to shame with their sheer zaniness during calçot season. These sweet leek-like onions are grilled over an open fire, then people peel them, dip them in romesco sauce, dangle them overhead, tilt their heads up and eat them in a series of bites.

These onions are eaten with copious amounts of cava or red wine. Here’s where it gets tricky (and why people wear bibs): the red wine is in a thing called a porrón, which is like a small decanter with a spout. It’s tipped toward the mouth (never touching it) until the wine pours in, then the drinker pulls the porrón upwards, looking up at it all the while, creating a stream of red wine, a kind of fountain. Then the movement is reversed.

I do not recommend that you try this on a first date—without lots of practice. Just use a wine glass, or my favorite rustic wine quaffer, the Bonne Maman jelly jar.

PS: My food memoir, Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity (Seal Press), was just released early on Amazon.com and BN.com. You can also like it on Facebook, or check out the Licking the Spoon website.

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