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Tarragona-Region Romesco Sauce

Tarragona-Region Romesco Sauce

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If a trip to Catalonia isn't on your schedule, the good news is that the Spanish specialty food retailer La Tienda is now selling authentic calçots grown in Oregon, through the end of May. Char them on your grill, then slip off the charred part, and dip them in this classic Tarragona-region romesco sauce.


  • 1 whole head garlic
  • 10 hazelnuts
  • 10 almonds
  • 1 ripe medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 sprig parsley, minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
  • 1 Teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Calories Per Serving103

Folate equivalent (total)7µg2%

Tarragona-Region Romesco Sauce - Recipes

Romesco sauce is originally from Tarragona. In Tarragona this preparation is as typical of the region as is paella in Valencia. Anton Gelabert, a painter from Barcelona wrote a book of romesco sauce called Llibre dels romescos . It is not important as a dish but is the sauce that goes with suquet , a fish stew, although the dish is called romesco . Suquet is a class of fish sauces, and means, literally, culinary preparation. Romesco is a vinegary-almondly sauce that begins with a sofregit of onions, garlic and tomatoes. This particular recipe I saw demonstrated at the now defunct Florian restaurant at Bertrand i Serra 20 in the Sant Gervasi section of Barcelona. The demonstration was held by the chef and owner Rosa Grau and her sous-chef Enrique Martin. I have adapted the recipe to be more suitable to an American home kitchen. Guindilla chiles are a mild chile and the chile you almost always find as a garnish on top of tapas in Barcelona bars. They can be replaced with any finger-type chile that’s not too piquant, such as Italian pepperoncino chiles.

[photo: salt cod with romesco, Clifford A. Wright]

Yield: Makes about 3 cups of sauce
Preparation Time: 2: 30 hours

1 large slice Italian or French country bread, crust removed

3/4 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted in an oven until turning color

4 medium onions, finely chopped

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more if necessary

9 large plum tomatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a grater

2 roasted guindilla (finger) peppers, peeled, cored, and seeded

4 large roasted red bell peppers, peeled, cored, and seeded

3/4 cup good quality red and white wine vinegar (mixed)

1. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the bread until golden on both sides. Remove and place in the food processor with the almonds. Process until fine. Remove and set aside.

2. Put the cut up onions in the food processor. Pull 6 cloves off of one of the heads of garlic, peel, and chop and place in the processor with the onions. Process both until very fine.

3. In a earthenware casserole (preferably), heat about 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the sofrito of onions, garlic, and tomatoes until quite dense, about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. (If using a non-flameproof earthenware casserole make sure to use a heat diffuser. If using a regular flameproof casserole, use a reduced heat, perhaps medium-low). This is the romesco .

4. Place the bell peppers and chiles in a saucepan or skillet with the wine vinegar and reduce the vinegar by three-quarters over high heat. Pour the peppers, along with the almonds and bread, into the casserole with the onion and tomatoes and cook until thick, about another 30 minutes.

5. Transfer the romesco to the food processor again, in batches if necessary, and process as you drizzle in 4 to 6 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil, making sure that you do not process for more than 20 seconds.

Romesco sauce uses a few core ingredients. Here is what we use in our Romesco sauce recipe:

  • Red bell pepper– Traditionally, this sauce is made with ñora chili peppers. I used a mixture of one charred red bell pepper and ground, dried ancho chili pepper. You can cut down on prep time by substituting with jarred roasted red peppers, but this may reduce its smoky flavor. To make the skin on the charred red bell pepper easy to peel, immediately transfer to a bowl from the oven and cover for about 20 minutes.
  • Plum tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Onion– Use a Spanish onion if available.
  • Olive oil– A Spanish extra-virgin olive oil is best.
  • Almonds– Many recipes for Romesco sauce use a combination of almonds and hazelnuts. I opted to use purely almonds.
  • Bread– I used toasted, sliced baguettes, but you can also use a slice of white bread with the crusts removed.
  • Salt
  • Sherry Vinegar– If you don’t have sherry vinegar available, swap with red wine vinegar.
  • Pimentón– Paprika. Use Spanish sweet paprika if possible.
  • Ground red chili– I added 1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chili powder (or cayenne). You can adjust this to taste or even use ñora chili peppers. To use dried ñora chili peppers (about 3), soak in a bowl of hot water for 15 minutes, strain, remove the seeds, puree until smooth, and heat briefly in a hot pan before blending into the Romesco sauce.

How To Use Romesco Sauce | 4 Wonderful Recipes

Fresh Pasta with Romesco Sauce:

Fresh Pasta with Romesco Sauce:

Think of Romesco sauce as a fancy tomato sauce. Deeper in flavor with a wonderful, often hardier consistency. This makes Romesco sauce a major player when it comes to pasta when pasta already shows off all-by-itself. When we think about the quality of pasta sauces they are either great, or not so very memorable, or even watery. Next time you make a tomato sauce ( recipe link here) try adding some Calabrian chilis or Piquillo peppers & charr your Tomatoes and you&rsquoll have a huge winner at the dinner table. Your eaters will look at you in amazement and wonder what you did.

Basic romesco sauce

Sometimes A sauce is more than, well, just a sauce. Discovered for the first time -- on the menu of a restaurant, amid the pages of a cookbook -- it looks ordinary enough. But in one bite such a sauce transforms the dish, then the meal, then the diner.

If you think I’m overstating (food is not always alchemy sometimes, as Michael Pollan has famously observed, it’s not even food) then you’ve never experienced a good romesco sauce.

This classic Catalonian sauce -- thick as pesto, the color of rust, textured with nuts and a bit of fried bread -- packs an astonishing amount of flavor into such small acreage. Earthy, toothsome, definitely habit-forming, romesco is rough magic in a bowl.

It’s also surprising, as nut sauces can often be, because at first you can’t quite place the earthy undertones and complex textures. High notes of sherry and paprika yield to the round, deep flavors of hazelnuts and almonds sweet octaves of tomato and pepper follow next, then there’s an aftershock of garlic, maybe another of chile.

Make a bowl of it, a very large bowl. Then scoop up the sauce with a slice of toasted bread, a shrimp from the grill, a sweet spring onion slipped from the charred filigree of its skin.

In Catalonian cooking, romesco is stirred into seafood stews, spooned over fish and served in bowls as a condiment.

Because it’s a sauce built with healthful nuts instead of, say, butter, a romesco is more than just an aesthetic addition or a flavor boost to a dish. Paired with some bread or onions, it can be a satisfying course unto itself. You can also ladle it into soups or over spring lamb, fish kebabs or grilled vegetables. Eat it out of the bowl with a spoon.

Romesco isn’t a hot sauce. It’s a subtle cohesion of flavors and textures, with a little sweet heat and depth but nothing overpowering. The nuts form the base of the sauce and give it a slightly rough texture. And the bread isn’t a thrifty cook’s filler, but a way to smooth and balance the nuts and add body. A mild bite comes more from the garlic and vinegar and paprika than the peppers. The finely balanced, intricate notes of nut and spice underscore delicate flavors -- briny seafood, sweet onions -- without overwhelming them, providing a little punch rather than a knockout.

That’s why in Spain the sauce, in a regional variation called a salbitxada, is paired with the grilled spring onions called calcots. It’s the featured sauce in the spring onion festival -- the calcotada -- where the delicate onions are grilled, then dipped in bowls of the heady stuff. Traditionally, romesco is made with dried Nora peppers, a Spanish variety that’s a visual dead ringer for the Cascabel chile pepper, a Mexican pepper named for the drum rattle it resembles. The Nora has the same color and earthy notes as the Cascabel but is sweeter.

Noras are available in stores supplied by Spanish importers (such as Harbor City’s La Espanola) or online. But since the peppers weren’t always so easy to find outside of Spain, many cooks have improvised, using roasted red peppers, a bigger hit of paprika or replacing the Noras with ancho peppers or something even hotter. As with any good sauce, variants abound.

At Bar Pintxo in Santa Monica, chef-owner Joe Miller throws a few pickled Spanish green Guindilla peppers into his romesco Mozza executive chef Matt Molina does his with earthy smoked paprika. La Espanola’s co-owner Juana Faraone has a copy of a 50-year-old Catalonian recipe that, along with the Noras, includes roasted onions.

If you don’t want to use Noras, or if you want a sauce with more heat, you can experiment with using some of the many dried peppers available. Many cooks like making romesco with anchos, but I like the verisimilitude of using Cascabels. Blend in a pair along with a charred red bell pepper and a little parsley, and you’ll have a romesco with a little more depth and bite than a traditional version.

A classic version, with more finesse and less heat, showcases the delicate notes of the nuts and a sweet Spanish paprika. For an additional touch of refinement, use plump Marcona almonds with the hazelnuts -- their delicate, buttery flavor comes through in the milder sauce.

And since it’s spring onion season, now is the perfect time for your own calcotada. Roast a bunch whole, maybe throw thick slices of bread and some plump shrimp on the grill too, and eat them all with a bowlful of romesco -- and your hands. Some sauces are not made for dainty dipping but for palpable, messy, unapologetic pleasure.

Recreating a calçotada at home

If you'd like to try to recreate a calçotada, then the best substitute is small/young leeks. Trim down the top and clean but don't peel them or chop off the bottom. Then either grill on the barbecue or on a griddle pan until slightly blackened and they appear soft.

Set aside a couple minutes to rest and soften, cover if they might go cold, then gently peel off the outer skin - this is often easiest by pinching just above the base and pulling off the outer skin with it - and serve with the romesco sauce.

Bases and ingredients of Romesco

The Romesco of Tarragona is based on the sauteéd of a characteristic chopped that is used as a base to cook a fish stew. Although quantities, forms and ways of use are as diverse as can be assumed, this stew is traditionally composed of a series of fundamental ingredients:

Dried ​​pepper: In Tarragona it is called romesco pepper or pimiento choricero although it is the same product. It is a non-spicy pepper that is used dry and has a subtle and fragrant aroma. Originally from America, he arrived to Spain in the fifteenth century after the Discovery and soon spread to France, Italy and Portugal, initially standing out for its medicinal properties. Its scientific name is Capsicum annum and it is very widespread in other manifestations of Spanish cuisine (Rioja, Navarra, Basque country…) due to its great versatility. It is also used as an ingredient in several kinf of sausages making. In Romesco of Tarragona, dried pepper is almost always used very lightly fried, being the delicate operation of frying this peppers one of the most critical moments when making a good Romesco. Probably one of the most characteristic more importants of Romesco of Tarragona is that it preferably uses this type of dry pepper and not dried peppers of other kinds such as “ñora”. Nor is paprika used in the elaboration of the Romesco of Tarragona.

Two “pimientos choriceros”. Package of “pimientos choriceros” from a spanish commercial surface. String of “pimientos choriceros” as they usually appear in commerce in Spain (on the right side you see a small string of “ñoras”).

Garlic: a basic ingredient of the Romesco of Tarragona that appears in the recipe in relatively high proportion. An average amount of garlic is used in the recipes on this website, although it is possible to increase the amount to taste.

Almonds and hazelnuts: probably the ingredient with the highest local load, since the region of Tarragona (Camp de Tarragona) has a long tradition in the production of excellent nuts. Almonds and hazelnuts are usually used in the same proportion but not in large quantities. It is important that both are of the highest possible quality and are toasted (natural, salted or fried almonds or hazelnuts will not be used in the Romesco of Tarragona).

Toasted and peeled hazelnuts and almonds from “Camp de Tarragona”.

Extra virgin olive oil: basic ingredient with a strong local load as well. A good extra virgin olive oil is basic in the quality of the final result, especially in its fair quantity, which amounts to around 15 cc each people. It´s worth trying to use an original extra virgin Arbequina olive oil from Camp de Tarragona.

Spicy seasoning: it will be used very moderately. The basic idea is to use the spicy seasoning, not to make the Romesco itch, but to show a strong and robust taste without becoming spicy. Sometimes it is said that a good Romesco of Tarragona may be a bit spicy at first, but as it is eaten the sensation of itching should disappear. To achieve this effect, very moderate amounts of dried chilli pepper or bird´s eye chili will be used. Of course there is no lack of fans who make very spicy Romescos, under the well-founded idea that the Romesco of Tarragona originally was probably much rougher and spicy.

Small bird´s eye chilis: small but very spicy.

Fried bread: in the classic Romesco recipes of Tarragona it is always proposed to add to the chopped some thin slices of bread, which have been previously fried on both sides in a pan with hot oil (usually with the idea of thickening the sauce and giving it greater texture). This ingredient should be used carefully, as it is easy to thicken the stew in excess. In some cases you can even do without bread.

Small slices of bread to be fried.

White wine, stale wine or brandy: its main function is to dilute the chopped, otherwise it could be a paste that is too thick and not very usable. Although some classic Romesco recipes speak of the use of high-grade red wines, the truth is that these red wines can darken the Romesco sauce a lot and prevent it from shining with its characteristic, vivid and precious garnet red color.

Fishes: in this aspect the debate is very wide, since originally the Romesco hosted any fish that would have been available every day without too many problems, mixing some and other species of fishes. Here are some types of fish that can be used and located more easily:

• Monkfish: It is very common in Romesco of Tarragona, where it is used for its firm, compact meat and with very little spine. Due to the large amount of water that this fish contains in its tissues, it is a good idea if it is possible to pre-scald it (keep the monkfish slices a few seconds in boiling water before pouring them into the stew), so that the monkfish loses some water and the meat is curdled slightly. In this way the fish will not add extra water to the stew. When it is necessary to limit spending, frozen monkfish can be used, which is currently possible to achieve with a quite good quality and price.

• Turbot, sea bream or sea bass : fish that are used clean and sliced. The enveloping skin of these fish helps keep the slices whole during their stew. At present it is possible to obtain this type of fish in an affordable way in its hatchery version. Although its flavor cannot be compared with its wild relatives, they offer any pocket the possibility of using these valued fish in a Romesco of Tarragona.

• Cod : the relative current accessibility of desalted cod (also sold in desalinated pieces, without spines and frozen) makes it very suitable for a tasty and economically affordable Romesco. The piece of skin that cod slices generally retain on one of their faces, helps prevent them from falling apart in the stew.

• Mackerel, horse mackerel, tuna, sardines, etc.. : oily fish in general is not usually ideal for the Romesco de Tarragona, as its flavor may be too intense and present. However, oily fish was usually used in the original romesco recipes and some people do not want another romesco that is not made with a good tuna “ventresca”.

• Cephalopods : Romesco of Tarragona can be made with cuttlefish, squid or octopus instead of using fish. In this case the preparation changes slightly (see recipes section of this website) and is usually accompanied by more potatoes. In any case, although Romesco is of fish, a certain amount of cuttlefish or squid can always be added to the stew. In cephalopod-based romescos, it is advisable not to mix them one another (octopus with cuttlefish, for example).
• Seafood and mollusks : Romesco of Tarragona can be reinforced and garnished with prawns, sea crayfish, clams… that will always bring a cheerful touch and an intense sea flavor. Of course, these additives depend on each budget and are not essential to obtain a delicious Romesco.

Potatoes and cooked beans: they are added in different proportions in order to make a larger and more complete dish and provide a certain load of hydrates. As for potatoes it is ideal to use if is possible the Kennebec class, as they are especially suitable for stews because of their greater consistency. As for cooked beans, it is ideal to use those that are sold already cooked preserved in clear glass jars, previously well washed of the creamy medium in which they come inside the jar.

Fish broth: this theme has its own section.

The chopped base of the traditional Romesco of Tarragona was made, therefore, patiently mincing garlic, bread, peppers and nuts in a good mortar that could not be missing in any fishing boat or in each house from the fishing district of Serrallo, and dissolving the result in wine or brandy. As you can imagine, this hard grinding exercise in the mortar -which could last more than half an hour in order to reduce the mixture to a paste that is sufficiently thin and homogeneous- has been replaced today by a blow from an electric mixer. However, a good romescaire (romesco cook in catalan) should find, at least once in a while, some occasion to be thoroughly worked with his mortar. And there are those who say that you can tell the difference in the taste (video of a traditional method to make the Romesco de Tarragona chop with a mortar).

The romescaire of El Serrallo de Tarragona. Woodcut of «El llibre dels Romescos», Antoni Gelabert, 1963.

Once ready and diluted, the chopped is fried in the bottom of the casserole in a little extra virgin olive oil of the best quality and that it is very hot, trying to be deep-fried but without burning. Then it is a matter of adding the fish, the broth and some other basic ingredients. In fact, traditional Romescos were often made with water, but it will always bring another warmth to the dish by using a natural, soft and light fish broth.

What Is Romesco Sauce?

Romesco sauce comes from Tarragona, a Catalonian city just south of Barcelona on Spain's northeastern coast. Its base ingredients usually include nuts—often almonds and/or hazelnuts—tomatoes, dried peppers, garlic, bread, olive oil, and vinegar, all mashed or processed into a paste.

It's more versatile than one might imagine. It goes with just about anything—meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, on sandwiches, dolloped into bowls of soups, spread on toasted bread. It can be made thick or thin, chunky or smooth, spicy or mild it can be rich and oily or fruity and bright.

Stirred into stews and braising liquids, it brings all the flavor you could possibly want. You can put it on pasta, toss it with rice, thin it with oil and vinegar and use it as a dressing for bitter greens heck, you can probably brush your teeth with it. If the old-school pitchmen of Atlantic City had ever gotten their hands on it, this is the point where they'd say, "But wait, there's more!" And then they'd reel off another 30 ideas for how to use it.

In short, it's a sauce you want in your rotation.

Why we love this romesco sauce recipe:

  • It's easy to prepare at home.
  • It slighlty sweet from the roasted veggies and tangy from the vinegar.
  • It has very simple ingredients: red bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, bread, hazelnuts or almonds, and seasoning.
  • It can easily be made gluten-free. Just use gluten-free bread!
  • Use matzah instead of bread to make it Passover friendly.
  • Don't feel like roasting peppers and tomatoes? Just use them out of a jar or can. You can also use sun dried tomatoes if you have them.
  • You can adjust seasoning to your liking. Use sweet or smoked paprika or a combination of both.
  • Make sure you use a flavorful extra virgin olive oil and don't skip the vinegar.
  • Allergic to nuts? Use sunflower seeds instead.

Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce is a polyvalent sauce that goes well with any grilled meat, fish or vegetable. It’s main ingredients are roasted tomatoes, garlic, hazelnut, almond, a red pepper pulp with a touch of paprika. A perfect condiment for BBQ season!

A Catalan ritual

The orange and nutty sauce originates from Tarragona, about an hour south of Barcelona, Spain. The chances are… if you come visit and try any restaurant in the outskirts of the city you’ll end up with romesco sauce in your plate. It’s especially eaten with grilled meat, fish or veggies but also on their famous papas bravas with some aioli. The Catalan rural houses often have a grilling spot in their backyard where in the winter month they do calçotadas. The equivalent of a sunday brunch… for Catalans though, the ritual consist of grilling those special green onions they call calçots which resembles leeks (but taste nothing like it) and then grill some meats and veggies while sipping on good wine all afternoon long. This special onion appetizer is eaten with romesco sauce or a similar sauce called salvitxada (more liquid by adding tomatoes and less pepper pulp).

Calçots technique

Those laborious to grow onions are the pride of Catalans and with reason! The technique consist of dumping the onions directly over the fire and burning them completely and don’t think about cleaning them up before…. no! no! no! they need this layer of dirt to protect them from the flame and keep the inside moist. Once the calçots blackened, they envelope them in a few layers of newspapers and let them rest for about 30 minutes to let the residual heat do the rest of the work. You end up with a delectable tender and melting core but to get there… you’ll need to use your hand to pull down the burned layer and then dump the onion directly in the romesco sauce. After all those steps you’ll get the reward you deserve a tender and delicious onion with a nutty romesco sauce that brings it to another level. The whole process is quite a messy one… meaning your hands are going to get dirty and if you are lucky you won’t stain anything else… On a personal note… my first calçotada was on my wedding day… white is definitely not the best color to wear at those events guys!

A great alternative

This nutty and rich sauce is the ketchup of the Catalans, they put it on everything and believe me I’ve converted too. I personally love it with green asparagus, or you could give it a try as your new ketchup in a burger. (Check my Spanish Burger recipe here). This romesco recipe version is adapted for anyone, meaning you won’t need that special pepper from Spain to make it, although I recommend to search it up because it does give the sauce a special flair. For those worried about the whole head of garlic in there…don’t! It’s a roasted garlic that will melt like butter and become sweet, it won’t give you this bad breath so.. No worries!

So let’s get those veggies roasted!

Romesco Sauce


  • 5 riped tomatoes
  • ±150ml of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 80g almonds (roasted and skinless)
  • 50g hazelnuts (roasted and skinless)
  • 1 garlic head
  • 1 small sweet red pepper or 2 ñoras pulp (or 1 tbsp of pasta de ñora or choricero)
  • 50ml of white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp of sweet and/or spicy paprika
  • 1 small slice of dry bread
  • salt and pepper

Watch the video: Tiny Tour. Tarragona Spain. 2000 year old Amfiteatre Balcón del Mediterráneo and more 2019 (July 2022).


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