Romesco sauce, for those of you uninitiated in its kicky charms, is an earthy, flavor-packed staple of Catalan cuisine, a sort of parallel-universe pesto made from olive oil, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, ground almonds and hazelnuts. Romesco tastes warm and nutty, sweet and smoky, rich but not heavy and is utterly addictive. In Spain, it’s typically served as a condiment with seafood and prepared with native ñora chiles. Stateside, anchos (dried poblano peppers) are a great substitute, lending a vibrant rust color to the sauce and sweetly kicking up the heat without stamping out the other ingredients.
Teamed up with quick-grilling shrimp and garlicky toasted bread, romesco makes for a gutsy dish that’s aces for entertaining or quick weeknight dinners, as you can prepare the sauce (and clean up your prodigious-but-totally-worth-it mess) well ahead of time, up to a week or two. This romesco recipe makes more than you’ll need for the prawns; save the leftovers to serve over grilled fish, vegetables (grilled spring onions are a traditional Catalan pairing), lamb burgers or eggs throughout the week. Put it on anything, for that matter: cardboard would taste spectacular with romesco on top.
Romesco Grilled Shrimp
serves 2-4, doubles easily
- 1 lb large Gulf shrimp (21-25 count), raw
- a generous 1/4 C romesco (recipe follows), with more for serving
- crusty country bread, sliced
- one large garlic clove, peeled
- salt & pepper
- lemon juice (optional)
- olive oil
Soak several bamboo skewers in water to prevent burning on the grill, at least 30 minutes. Remove the shrimp from their shells, devein and rinse under cool water. In a large zip-top bag or medium bowl, season the shrimp generously with salt and pepper and add the romesco; toss to coat and refrigerate until ready to use. Lightly brush the sliced bread with olive oil. Skewer the shrimp and grill over medium-high heat until curled and fully pink, about 2-3 minutes per side, taking care not to overcook; grill the bread at the same time, flipping once, until nicely browned. Rub the grilled bread with the garlic clove. Splash the grilled shrimp with a bit of lemon juice, if desired, and serve with the bread and extra romesco for dipping.
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin, 2005
- 5 dried ancho chiles
- 2 Tbsp raw almonds
- 2 Tbsp hazelnuts
- 1 1/4 C olive oil
- 1 slice crusty country bread, about 1″ thick
- generous 1/3 C canned San Marzano tomatoes (fresh in season)
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 lemon
- Sherry or red wine vinegar
- kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the stems & seeds from the chiles and soak in warm water to soften, about 15 minutes. Strain and pat dry with paper towels. Meanwhile, toast the nuts on a baking sheet until fragrant and golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Rub off the papery shells from the hazelnuts and turn off the oven.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and heat another minute. Fry the sliced bread on both sides until golden brown. Remove the bread and add 2 Tbsp olive oil, the chiles, the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes color and the juice evaporates a bit. Take off the heat.
Cut the cooled bread into 1″ chunks and add to a food processor with the toasted nuts and garlic; process until coarsely ground. Add the tomato-chile mixture and process for another minute. With the machine running, add 1 C of olive oil and process into a purée. (The romesco will look “broken”, the olive oil separating from the solids, but that’s normal.) Add the parsley, and season to taste with lemon juice, a splash of vinegar, and salt. The romesco will keep about 2 weeks in the fridge.