I started working a few hours a week with Ben and Mary Daire at their beautiful wine and gourmet food shop, Dare Bottleshop and Provisions in downtown Lenox. I have known Ben and Mary for many years from when Ben was an executive chef at Alta in Lenox and Mary was a sales representative for a regional wine, beer and liquor distributor while I worked at a store in wine and cheese. I used to tease Ben, 30 years younger than me, that he would do what I was doing when he reached the age I was when I left the restaurant business at 38. back then, as I had lived the grueling life of a restaurant executive chef with its high burnout rate. I had to smile when I heard that he and Mary opened this shop last November and that Ben left the restaurant business at a similar age to mine. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to repeatedly remind Ben of my prediction.
As well as offering a wide range of interesting and carefully selected wines with a focus on independent winemakers who use organic and sustainable methods, they offer regionally sourced beers and ciders and eco-friendly supplies for your pantry. These supplies come from near and far and, as sometimes happens when glassware is shipped, they are damaged in transit. Recently, a crate of Matiz España, a company importing gourmet food products from Spain, was damaged en route. A few jars broke causing them to spill onto other jars in the crate. Mary and Ben graciously gave me a few of these undamaged jars, including a small jar of romesco sauce. It reminded me of that delicious savory sauce that I hadn’t made in about 15 years. It’s a recipe that slipped out of my consciousness as I got older, even though I try to reassure myself that I’m wiser while regularly forgetting the names of people and things.
The origin of romesco sauce dates back to at least the 18th century when fishermen began using the condiment to liven up meals prepared from their catch while fishing off the coast of Catalonia in the northeast. from Spain. Specifically, its origins date back to the Catalan port city of Tarragona south of Barcelona. The etymology of romesco originates from the Mozarabs, Spanish Christians who lived under Muslim rule and adopted much of the Arabic language and culture. They concentrated in the Iberian Peninsula where, after many political disputes, they declared themselves a nationality and the autonomous community of Catalonia was recently born in Spain.
Romesco sauce has as many variations as there are families in Catalonia, but its base is usually a puree of roasted tomatoes and charred or dried and rehydrated red peppers that are thickened with almonds and/or hazelnuts and bread. grilled then emulsified with olive oil. It is a rich, jammy, slightly smoky, and subtly spicy condiment that works wonderfully with almost any savory food beyond seafood, including but not limited to roasted or grilled vegetables. It is so popular in Catalonia that it is said that preparing roasted or grilled vegetables is just an excuse to eat romesco.
Especially now that we have excellent tomatoes and red peppers in season locally, it’s a wonderful condiment to make for use in many ways. It’s so versatile that I recently dressed a corn, tomato, basil, and ciliegin mozzarella salad that I shared with friends to rave reviews. Lois and I dunked some breadsticks in the abandoned romesco pot from Ben and Mary’s shop as an appetizer at a picnic in Tanglewood.
Makes about 2 cups
The day I decided to make the sauce, I picked up a gorgeous swordfish steak to grill at Mazzeo’s at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace. A super quick version of the sauce can be made with canned roasted peppers and fire roasted tomatoes, but when the ingredients are at their peak, as they are now, that would miss the point as far as I’m concerned. The recipe calls for whole blanched almonds, which because I had whole unblanched almonds in my fridge, I blanched them by placing them in boiling water for a minute, after which I drained them and I I ran cold water over them until they could be handled. The skins slipped right off squeezing from the thicker end of the almond and popping the now blanched almond into the fingers of my opposite hand.
Any fleshy tomato will do. I used an old Brandywine I had on hand, but plum tomatoes would be just as good. As I feasted on my meal, the sauce was so delicious that, like the Catalans, I wondered if the swordfish or the Romesco was the accompaniment!
- About ¼ lb of fleshy tomato, such as Brandywine or plum, X-split skin
- 3 large garlic cloves coated in olive oil
- ½ cup whole blanched almonds
- 1 large red bell pepper, quartered with seeds, stem and membrane removed
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon sherry or sweet red wine vinegar
- 1 thick slice of toasted country bread, torn into pieces
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- On separate foil-lined dishes, place the tomato on one dish and the garlic and almonds on another in a single layer and roast for about 15 minutes, mixing the almonds and garlic halfway through. path. Keep an eye out for the almonds and garlic as how long it takes to roast to light brown depends on how fresh they are.
- Turn the oven to broil on high and place the prepared red pepper skin side up in a pan on the top shelf of the oven. Grill until pepper is blackened. To make skin removal easier, reseal the pepper in a paper bag for about 10 minutes where the skin will evaporate.
- After removing the skin from the tomato and red pepper, place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor fitted with the cutting blade. Puree the ingredients while adding the olive oil in an even stream, scraping down the sides until a thick, smooth puree forms.
- Romesco sauce is used in many ways and is sometimes called Spanish ketchup. It can be used to flavor and thicken stews, especially seafood stews. If served as a condiment, it is served at room temperature.