The Perfect Sauce
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Meda Kessler
Creamy, nutty and tinged with a touch of smoke, romesco goes with everything
Artist/poet Brenda Ciardiello loves to eat — and cook. The Monticello resident enjoys throwing dinner parties for friends and whipping up family-friendly meals for her young children, who are adventurous eaters. Think grilled artichokes, Asian dumplings, risotto, grazing platters of cheese, olives, prosciutto and focaccia, and tiramisu. Ciardiello’s palate is varied thanks in part to her Mexican heritage and her husband’s Italian roots.
A family trip to Italy this summer allowed them to indulge in impeccably fresh seafood, nibble on locally picked olives and snack on perfect pizza. We asked her to choose one of her go-to recipes for this issue’s Home Cooking feature. “I had a hard time deciding on what to share, but then my husband reminded me of this wonderful romesco sauce which I’ve been making for years, especially in the fall. It even has an autumnal color to it. I serve it with everything; any meat, seafood, vegetable, even a hunk of bread is better with it,” says Ciardiello. “But for a great date-night dinner, I serve it alongside a medium-rare rib-eye with roasted garlic potatoes and poblano peppers. The sauce pairs perfectly with a nice red Rioja, in keeping with its Spanish roots.”
To roast your own bell pepper, put it under a broiler or set it directly over a flame if you have a gas oven. Rotate with tongs until most of the skin is charred. Remove from heat and place in a bowl; cover with a towel to allow the pepper to steam and soften. Once it cools, peel off the charred skin, although leaving some of the black bits adds a nice smoky flavor to the sauce. Trim off the stem and remove seeds.
Makes about 1½ cups
- 1 large roasted red bell pepper (or use the jarred variety)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
- ¼ cup tomato puree
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (you can substitute other vinegars such as red wine or prosecco, but the sauce tastes best with the sherry style)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Pulse all ingredients except the last two in a food processor until everything is finely chopped.
Add olive oil with the motor running until the entire mixture emulsifies and comes together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If using that day, cover and set aside. The sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead and refrigerated. You want to serve it at room temperature, though, so the day you are using it, take it out of the fridge 3 to 4 hours before serving.