Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Calcots with romesco sauce


Romesco sauce is a classic from Spain's Catalan region.  Made by pounding nuts, chillies, peppers, garlic and tomatoes, romesco is a versatile sauce which goes well with fish, chicken, lamb or vegetables such as asparagus or leeks.  Best of all is to serve it with calcots.  Somewhere between a spring onion and a leek, these alliums were orginally what harvesters missed in the autumn. The onions remained in the ground over winter and in January/February sprouted from the old bulb.  These days they are a delicacy and are planted to over-winter.  Their harvesting is often celebrated with a 'calcotada' festival.  There seems to be no definitive recipe for romesco sauce.  Some lean towards a high ratio of peppers, some to tomatoes.  The romesco recipe here is based on the one which appears in 'Moro the cookbook'.  It can be prepared ahead and keeps for at least a couple of days in the fridge.  You can perk it up by stirring in, or sprinkling on top, some feshly fried breadcrumbs before serving.

Having discovered the first Spanish calcots of the season gracing Tony Booth's arch in Bermondsey at the weekend, I just had to bring some home.  With thoughts of past enjoyment of calcots cooked over charcoal and served with romesco sauce on visits to Barcelona, I then had to decide how I was going to recreate my memories off this early spring traditional Catalan dish.  They need a high heat to obtain the desired charred quality so unless you have a barbecue, an open fire, or a robust cooking range you need to decide how you're going to achieve this in a domestic kitchen.  

I have an induction hob - not the gas range I would like.  I could have simply grilled them, but I opted to trim the roots of the calcots, strip off the outer "stocking", wash and pop them into boiling, salted water for just a couple of minutes before drying them on kitchen paper then charring them.  To achieve the charring, just heat a large frying pan on a fairly high heat and pour in a trace of olive oil.  Heat a second pan alongside.  Add the calcots to the first pan and cook them for 3-4 minutes on a medium-high heat until browned then turn each over, put the second hot pan on top and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  Remove them to a few sheets of newspaper and wrap loosely.  Leave for 2 minutes then the calcots should emerge sweet, silky and slightly smokey.  

Calcots with
Romesco Sauce

Romesco Sauce
(For 4-6 people)

50g (2 oz) blanched almonds
25g (1 oz)  hazelnuts
1 dried ñoras or choriceros pepper
1 small dried red chilli, deseeded and crumbled
2 garlic cloves
25g (1 oz) stale white bread, torn into pieces
1 red Romano pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded or 75g piquillo peppers (the kind you see in jars in Spanish food shops)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 scant tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
½ teaspoon tomato purée
A pinch of saffron, infused in 4 tablespoons of boiling water
½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
Salt and pepper

Break open the dried pepper, remove the seeds, crumble the pepper and pour enough boiling water over to cover.  Add the crumbled dried chilli to the bowl too.  Dry roast the nuts in a frying pan until golden brown then allow to cool.  Fry the whole garlic cloves in the olive oil until golden, then remove and keep aside.  In the same oil, fry the bread until golden and crisp.  Use a food processor or a pestle and mortar to pound the first seven ingredients to a coarse paste and keep the pepper water to one side (I like my sauce to be quite crunchy rather than smooth).  Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and stir in the final five ingredients and any olive oil leftover from frying.  Add some of the pepper water to let down the sauce to the consistency you like.  You can also add more olive oil at this stage if you wish.

To eat the calcots, roll up the flesh and dip into the romesco sauce. Three or four per person makes a good lunch.  And if you can't get calmest, small-medium sized leeks are a good option.