So excited to see asparagus and spring onions again — welcome back. Especially love the skinny, spindly, tender asparagus stalks. Have already begun to compile a list of ideas for asparagus. First up, roasted vegetables with romesco sauce. In Spain (in the province of Tarragona in Catalonia to be exact) there is a popular gastronomical fiesta, held between the end of winter and March/April called the calçotada, where friends and family gather to celebrate the sweet onion known as calçot. After harvest, the onions, which look like baby leeks, are grilled, then wrapped in newspaper to steam for a bit. The blackened leaves are peeled back and then the calcots are dipped in salvitxada or romesco sauce. Yum!  Love the idea of celebrating the harvest.

 

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Back to the romesco. Romesco is a Catalan sauce. There are many variations, but typically it’s made with nuts, usually almonds and hazelnuts, toasted bread, garlic, roasted peppers and tomatoes, and a few other ingredients. The nyora chile is traditionally used in romesco sauce; however, since this chile is not readily available (at least not in my part of the world), I substituted mild ancho chiles, which impart fruity (raisiny), smoky flavors — while some may not consider this “authentic”, in my opinion, a suitable and tasty addition.

Romesco is a sauce with depth of flavor and big personality. Today I paired it with roasted cauliflower, asparagus, and green onions. While great with roasted vegetables (better still on the grill), it’s uses do not stop there. Try it with seafood (shrimp or sea scallops), grilled fish, grilled meat, as a sandwich spread, or enjoy on its own on top a piece of crusty bread. I encourage you to give it a try. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you will probably wish you made a bigger batch, as it’s bound to disappear rather quickly.

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After 30 minutes in the oven, your tomatoes should look like this. The skins should peel right off at this point. The tomatoes and their juices go straight into the food processor, along with the rest of the ingredients.

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Romesco Sauce

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
1 roasted red pepper
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ancho chiles, seeds and veins removed, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons blanched almonds
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, *skins removed
1 1-inch slice country bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed with the side of a knife
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt

Roast the tomatoes at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until tender and the skins peel off easily. Peel the tomatoes and add with their juices to the food processor. Roast the red pepper on an open flame until charred on all sides. Place in a paper bag for about 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin, remove the seeds. Add the red pepper to the food processor.

Heat 1/3 cup oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the ancho chiles and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute until they turn bright red. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add to the food processor. Add the hazelnuts, almonds, bread, garlic to the skillet, and cook stirring until the bread and garlic are golden, 2-3 minutes. Add the bread nut mixture and oil to the food processor. Add the vinegar, paprika, and salt to the food processor and puree until smooth. Thin with a little olive oil if needed (added 2 tablespoons).

*To remove skins from hazelnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a baking pan toast hazelnuts in one layer in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly colored and skins are blistered. Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let steam 1 minute. Rub nuts in towel to remove loose skins (don’t worry about skins that don’t come off) and cool completely.

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