16 September 2010

Smoky, sweet, and the color of sunset

Nothing says summer like peppers. Whether fiery habañeros in salsa, plump serranos in a Thai curry, or sweet roasted peppers in a goat cheese panini, they are always at their best this time of year.

I have an habañero plant that is weighed down with dozens of peppers, ready to ripen with a few more days of sun. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them all - I may try to duplicate a sauce I had at La Cevicheria - but I couldn't be more excited.

Peppers of all kinds are available nearly year-round in Southern California, but too often they are watery or bland. The past month has yielded bell peppers that are rich, sweet, and thick-fleshed - perfect for roasting and whirling through a blender.


Romesco is a sauce from Catalunya in Northeast Spain; while traditionally made with a dried sweet pepper, I love the full-bodied flavor of fresh-roasted red peppers. After seeing a post on the Smitten Kitchen about Suzanne Goin's recipe, which uses a combination of fresh and roasted garlic, I was inspired to pull the blender out again for another nut-paste.

bread and tomatoes

This recipe is simple and relatively fast - and while there are several things that need to be cycled through the oven, it can all be done on one rimmed baking sheet. I love the addition of smoked Spanish paprika, or pimentón de la vera; it adds an incomparable smoky flavor that can't be beat.

I used a dried guajillo chile for the smallest bit of heat - guajillos are easy to find in mercados or in the "Latin/Hispanic food" section of the supermarket, but the chile in this recipe can easily be replaced with two small ancho chiles or left out entirely for a sweeter sauce.


Salsa Romesco
Romesco can be served with seafood or grilled vegetables (green onions are traditional) - I adore it tossed with some additional olive oil on hot linguine or fettucine.

3 large red bell peppers
¼ cup raw almonds
¼ cup raw hazelnuts
½ cup olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 guajillo chile or 2 dried ancho chiles
3 small roma tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
2 medium slices country bread
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon pimentón de la vera
salt & pepper

Place a rack on the top level of your oven and turn the broiler on high. Wash and pat dry the bell peppers, then arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and place under the broiler. Cook, turning every few minutes with tongs, until blackened all over, 5-15 minutes (it will be faster if you preheat your broiler). Transfer to a large container or plastic bag and set aside to steam & cool.

Turn off the broiler, lower the rack to the center and set the oven temperature to 375˚F. On the same rimmed sheet, arrange the almonds on one half and the hazelnuts on the other. Toss the almonds with a little olive oil and return to the oven. Toast until golden brown (the hazelnut skin will be darker) and sizzling, 8-10 minutes. Place the hazelnuts on a kitchen towel and transfer the almonds to a small plate to cool. Peel the hazelnuts by rubbing them vigorously with the towel.

Remove the stem of the dried chile(s) and shake out the seeds. In the basin of the blender, combine the chile(s) with very hot water; cover and set aside.

Half the tomatoes and place them on the same baking sheet with three unpeeled cloves of garlic and the breat slices. Drizzle the bread and tomatoes with olive oil and return to the oven. Roast, flipping the bread once, until the bread is golden brown on both sides and the tomatoes and garlic are softened, 15-20 minutes.

Peel and seed the roasted red peppers; remove the peels from the tomatoes, if desired. Peel the roasted and raw garlic.

Drain the water from the blender and add the red peppers, nuts, tomatoes, garlic, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and pimentón to the dried chile; pulse briefly just to combine. Break up the bread into pieces and add it to the mixture, pulsing to make a thick paste. With the blender running, drizzle in the ½ cup olive oil. The mixture will be thick and bright orange-red.

Taste and add additional vinegar if desired; salt and pepper to taste.

Finished sauce may be frozen in small jars; alternatively, cover a baking sheet with waxed paper and dollop the sauce by the tablespoonful. Freeze until fully solid, then transfer to a freezer container.

Makes about 3 ½ cups


  1. Oh, that does sound delicious as a dressing for pasta. At first glance I thought you were posting about toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled with olive oil and a touch of salt. I saw Jeaques Pepin make it a few weeks ago and then I read about Ruth Reichl doing it in Spain. I'm sure it has a name, but it escapes me :)

  2. I think you're thinking of "pan amb tomaquet" (literally "bread with tomato"), which is another Catalan dish. That is delicious and wonderful ... and I've actually never made it. I may need to add it to my list of things to do with tomatoes before they're mediocre!

  3. Gorgeous pic of oily bread - sold! Do you have a Twitter account? Maybe not since I don't see a link...

  4. Thanks, Sasa! No, I'm not ready for Twitter - I have to deal with it at work as it is, and that's enough for me.