Traditional Romesco Sauce Recipe
What is Romesco?
This is a popular Spanish sauce made with red peppers and nuts. It is often thickened with stale bread, similar to traditional gazpacho, as well as the classic Spanish ingredients of garlic, sherry vinegar, tomatoes, and olive oil. Sometimes, you'll see a romesco recipe with onions, fennel, or mint, but it depends on the chef and the dish it's going in.
Romesco sauce is often served with fish or seafood, but it goes really well with poultry and even lamb, as well. I like to put it on crispy roasted vegetables, like cauliflower, like Oakland restaurant Bocanova used to do. They've since moved on to a cauliflower gratin, which is also delicious, but I miss the old dish, so I make my own version at home.
Where Does It Come From?
What makes salsa romesco so special are authentic ñora peppers, which are native to the region around Valencia in Spain. They are also a popular ingredient in paella, and are considered vital to Valencian cooking.
Other names for these red chiles are "nyoras" or "nyores," "pimiento choricero," or simply the "paprika pepper," since 80% of ñoras are used for dried paprika. They have a vivid red color and a sweet, mild flavor that makes them very versatile; you'll find them in everything from traditional Spanish chorizo to crab croquetas to patatas bravas.
In the United States, you can buy these peppers dried, either at specialty stores or online. If you cannot find them in your area, cascabel chiles are a good substitute, or any other mild dry chili pepper that you can get your hands on.
Salsa Romesco Recipe
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 2 red bell peppers
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 onion
- 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
- 2 dried nora peppers
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 1 slice stale bread
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
- salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and bell peppers in half and remove the core. Peel the onion and cut it into 4 chunks. Peel the garlic cloves, but leave them whole.
- Pour a few tablespoons of your olive oil into a baking dish or jelly roll pan, toss the ingredients to coat, sprinkle everything with salt, then bake 20 minutes, before removing the garlic cloves and turning the other ingredients oven. Roast an additional 20-30 minutes, until veggies just begin to blacken. Remove to cool and turn off the oven.
- While the vegetables roast, heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet on the stove top. Cut your dried peppers into smaller pieces and add to the hot oil, frying for 30-60 seconds.
- Remove the chiles from the oil with a slotted spoon and put the almonds in. Tear or cut your bread into 1/2-inch pieces and add that to the oil as well, along with your red pepper flakes (use more for a spicier sauce). Cook 2-3 minutes, until bread is golden brown. Remove from the heat and return the chile pieces to the mixture.
- Once everything is cool enough to handle, add them to the food processor and puree everything until it is uniformly mixed. It will be a little chunky; that's what you want. Adjust the salt to taste.
- Serve immediately, or refrigerate for a few days in an airtight container.
I mentioned earlier that you can use any dried mild red chile if you can't find ñoras, but there are other easy subsitutions you can make as well:
Romesco with Hazelnuts
Replace half of the almonds in the recipe above for hazelnuts, which are also traditional.
No Onion or Less Garlic
You can omit the onion or use fewer garlic cloves without causing any real issues in the final consistency. If you find the salsa to be too thick, just add a little water.
Use Canned Peppers
Instead of roasting your own bell peppers, it is perfectly acceptable to use a drained jar of piquillo peppers or another roasted sweet red pepper.
Use Canned Tomatoes
1/2 cup of canned tomatoes can be substituted for fresh, roasted ones.
How to Store & Serving Ideas
This red pepper sauce can be used in all kinds of dishes, so I often make a batch at the beginning of the week, before I even know what I'm going to eat it with. In fact, like many Spanish sauces, I think it tastes better after the first day—all the ingredients have a chance to steep and blend, creating a deeper, fuller flavor profile.
How Should I Store It?
Romesco will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two weeks (longer, if it's in the back of the refrigerator, which stays colder). I keep a jar around that perfectly fits one batch, as you can see above. You can also freeze it for up to three months.
What Is Romesco Used For?
- Grilled snapper
- Sautéed halibut
- Baked sea bass
- Skirt steak
- Barbecued beef skewers
- Lamb cutlets
- Pork chops
- Seared cauliflower "steak"
- Roasted potatoes
- Grilled broccolini
- In cold broccoli salad
- With zucchini "fries"
- On pasta
- As a pizza sauce
Share your own dish ideas in the comments below!