Romesco to the rescue
Saturday was hot. Crazy hot. Sweltering, blazing, go-inside-before-you-melt hot. With a heat index of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, it was a good day to get things done early. I'd dealt with the dog and completed my shopping at the Raleigh farmers' market (30 miles away) by 8:30 a.m. It was also a day for egg cookery experiments — I tried to cook an egg on my back deck. Really. It was very much a runny-yolked, sunny-side-up sort of egg, but the heat got to it. And to me.
It was not a good day to turn on the oven. I did anyway, as I'd invited my friends Mo and Doris to dinner, but after roasting tomatoes and garlic for romesco sauce, I turned the oven dial to off. The evening's entree, freshly caught mullet from Core Sound Seafood, was going on the grill. As the air conditioner struggled to keep up with record temperatures, any additional cooking would have to take place outdoors.
Spanish cuisine was at the forefront of my brain, having fried a batch of Padron peppers earlier in the week. When I worked at Rialto restaurant in Cambridge years ago, the menu included items inspired by France and Spain, as well as Italy. Chef Jody Adams has gone virtually all-Italian these days, but it was there that I learned to make a delicious seafood paella, as well as a mean romesco sauce.
I hadn't cooked mullet before, and though I had a general sense of its flavor, I wasn't sure what would compliment it. Enter romesco, a terrific jack-of-all-trades sauce that goes with most anything. I've served it with other fish, shellfish, meat, veggies, and perhaps best of all, smeared it on grilled bread. Though easy to prepare, romesco's taste is complex. It features tart-yet-sweet roasted garlic, tomatoes, and peppers; vinegar's acidity; the coarse texture and full flavor of almonds.
Romesco paired nicely with the fish, and grilled slices of ciabatta went quickly when spread with sauce. The mullet was fabulous, the corn soup was outrageously sweet, and glorious peaches (sliced, served without adornment) were the perfect dessert.
The next time you're unsure of what to serve with grilled just-about-anything, consider romesco.
Makes about 3 cups
4 ripe tomatoes, cored
1 very large head garlic (I used elephant garlic, supplied by my CSA)
1 red bell pepper
1 cup blanched almonds
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 slice white bread
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Core the tomatoes and cut them in half. Place them in a roasting pan with the head of garlic, also cut in half. Toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt and roast for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until caramelized.
Blacken the red pepper over a gas range (place on top of a lit burner, turning with tongs until charred throughout), on a grill, or in the oven. While still warm, put it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to cool, then peel and remove seeds.
Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over low-medium heat on the range. They will smell nutty and brown slightly when they're ready, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
When the tomatoes and garlic are done, allow to cool, then remove the skins. Put them in a food processor with the roasted red pepper and toasted almonds. With the machine running, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. The sauce should be thick, the almonds giving it a coarse texture. Add the bread and process. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, vinegar, or olive oil as necessary.
Romesco sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about one week.