Thursday, April 30, 2009

Salsa Romesco

It's rare that I deliver on my gratuitous on-line promises, but today is an exception. I've had the recipe for an unbelievable salsa romesco on my hands for some time and it seems a profound transgression not to share it. Not only is it straight from Tarragona--cradle of the romesco sauce and charming Roman town just an hour outside of Barcelona--, it's also a tried and true family recipe, courtesy of Mrs. Fernández Roig, a.k.a. Jordi's mom, who prepared it for a crowd of hungry calçot eaters earlier this spring. See the Calçotada post for details.

You may not know a lot about salsa romesco; it doesn't have the international caché of an allioli or a bernaise, but it does have the chops and is a Catalan favourite. It's sweet, it's savoury, it's smooth, it's crunchy and, while it goes with almost anything (I was spreading it liberally on toasted bread recently), it's most commonly served with roasted vegetables, including calçots, as well as fish and seafood.

The base, in addition to ground nuts and olive oil, contains a type of pepper that is difficult to find outside of Spain. The traditional peppers used are often referred to as "romesco peppers" and can easily be found in Catalunya; they are distinct from ñora peppers which are often also used. These peppers are smaller than your average red pepper and have a richness that a regular capsicum does not. Outside of Spain, red bell peppers can be substituted, but I'm afraid the substitution, if not exactly second rate, makes the salsa more of a romesco "lite".

Now, here is the recipe, just as it was provided to me--with translation and some explanation. I must say I had to guess regarding the quantities of pimentón, olive oil, and vinegar, but that is the beauty of a family recipe.


125 gr toasted almonds
125 gr toasted hazelnuts
50 gr pine nuts
2 walnuts
1 onion
8 tomatoes
1/2 head garlic
5 dried "romesco" peppers
a tiny bit of raw garlic, pressed (to taste)
a tiny bit of sugar (to taste)
1 tsp spicy pimentón (or hot paprika)
about a cup of olive oil
about half a cup of red wine vinegar
salt (to taste)
cayenne pepper (to taste; optional and not part of Jordi's mom's recipe)


Char grill the onion, tomatoes, garlic and blanch the peppers (if using fresh peppers, char grill these too). (If you are Jordi's mom, you will do the char grilling over a wood fire in the outdoor brick oven in your backyard; if you are not, you will likely have to do with your home oven at about 220 degrees C for 30 minutes or so.) Once the vegetables have cooled sufficiently, remove the skin. You will now have to use a food processor unless you have freakishly strong arms and a giant mortar and pestle. Start with the nuts; add the vegetables and seasonings next; and finish things off with the olive oil, added slowly in a thin stream to ensure the sauce holds together (some add a bit of toasted bread to the mix to help with the consistency). Process until well mixed but not completely smooth. Add vinegar and salt to taste at the very end.

By the way, to be completely authentic, you should buy your olive oil and hazelnuts in Constanti, the town where Jordi's mom was born.

This recipe will serve ten, so prepare to share.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Roses and Books (La Diada de Sant Jordi)

So, Sant Jordi is a saint, the patron saint of Catalunya in fact. You may know him better as Saint George. You know, the one who slew the dragon. You must have heard about the dragon--the dragon that was menacing the village and demanding villager blood in return for not wreaking even more destruction (you know, not unlike the former Bush government). Each night, the villagers would decide by lottery who would offer him or herself to the dragon the next morning. The village's government was rather egalitarian and, one day, the lot fell on the village's princess. She went willingly to meet her fate; however, before the dragon could tear her to shreds, Saint George appeared on his firey steed and stuck a lance through the dragon's heart. Catalan legend has it that out of the dragon's blood a rose bush sprang.

Now, one might quibble about the fact that Saint George waited until the princess was in danger before he slew the dragon, letting countless hapless villagers go to their deaths, but that would simply show a flawed understanding of foreign policy--the central tenet of which appears to be don't get off your couch until there's something in it for you, whether that be simple glory or foreign oil.

Glory Saint George received. Catalans, for one, celebrate him on April 23 by giving roses and books to their beloveds. The roses, a symbol of passion, are accompanied by blades of wheat, a symbol of fertility, and the Catalan flag, a symbol of the still simmering Catalan nationalism; they are traditionally a gift for the ladies, though times are changing. The gentlemen, in turn, receive books. This appears to have more to do with the fact that April 23 is also the International Day of the Book and, coincidentally, the date on which both Shakespeare and Cervantes died. In any case, it's a charming custom.

In Barcelona, the streets are never more packed than on the Diada de Sant Jordi. Book and flower sellers are out in tents on Paseo de Gracia, Rambla Catalunya and Las Ramblas, selling wares to couples strolling by. Well, that's the public relations dream; the reality is that it's more a day of teeming throngs--lovely as the idea is, we had to narrowly escape suffocating crowds and exhausting line ups as we were strolling yesterday evening. Despite the challenges, I am today the proud owner of Exciting Barcelona: Festivals and traditions and Contemporary American Culture: An Anthropological View, not to mention a blood red rose.

To check out Barcelona hotels click here: Barcelona Hotels.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Well, I have sunk to such depths of delinquency this time that readers have taken to emailing me to ask if they should remove my inactive blog from their reading list. Please let me take this opportunity to assure you that I have not drifted off to eternal sleep; I've just been hibernating. And, as spring is fully swinging here in Barcelona, the time is more than apt to come out of my cave, if only to blink dazedly and crawl back in for another snooze.

Since I'm out here now, let me remedy my long standing failure to post the calçotada link I promised (go ahead and click on it now): Feting the humble onion in Catalonia. The article came out in the Globe & Mail in March and I must thank my friends Jordi and Deirdre for supplying the culinary and literary fodder for the piece and the 2-3 extra pounds I put on in the single day of feasting.

I should also mention that the calçots we ate that day were accompanied by a fabulous salsa romesco prepared by Jordi's mom, a master of this sweet and spicy traditional sauce. She was kind enough to provide me with her recipe, which (at the risk of once more making promises I may not keep) I will post here shortly.

For those looking for an authentic calçotada experience near Barcelona, the article contains a couple of restaurant recommendations. However, we are at the very, very end of calçot season and you may need to wait until next year to get down with the onion in true Catalan style.