Thursday, 12 April 2012
Calçots and romesco sauce: perfect for the barbecue
Recently we had a spell of barbecue weather, so, of course, we made the most of it. I'd been lucky and had come by some calçots from the father of one of my daughter's school friends who's a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Druid Street, Bermondsey (one of several who used to be based in Borough Market). He likes pickles, so I gave him some of my spiced apple chutney as a little 'thank you'. (I also had some wild mushrooms from him last autumn. Generous man.)
Calçots are like a cross between spring onions and leeks and are a Catalan speciality. I first encountered them on a visit to Torres (who are based near Barcelona) whose public relations I used to handle. Calçots have a short season late winter/early spring and the Catalans get very enthusiastic about them, grilling them over charcoal until the outer leaves are almost black and serving them with peppery, nutty romesco sauce. It's a messy, but delicious process, peeling off the burnt bits and dunking the hot, juicy calçots into the sauce. Well worth getting enthusiastic about.
Initially I was expecting to keep things simple and buy some romesco, but Spanish specialists Brindisa didn't stock it, but were able to sell me some piquillo peppers and fabulous blanched marcona almonds. I slightly adapted the Moro recipe which was pretty straightforward (I didn't have quite the right combination of peppers, but I don't think it matters that much as you make it as hot or mild as you like). The big surprise, though, was how well it also went with the chicken we were barbecuing as well. It just seemed brilliantly suited to grilled food.
Note: the romesco started off as a full-on garlicky Mediterranean mouthful, but mellowed and was quite mild when we finished it off a week later. Either way, our five-year-old also really enjoyed it. Once the weather improves, we'll definitely be making more.
The romesco was great with both white and red wine: Torres' crisp, refreshing and incredibly versatile Viña Sol (particularly good with the calçots) and a big, spicy Jumilla. (We played safe and stayed with Spain on both occasions, although southern French wines, especially from just across the border in Roussillon, would also work well.)
100g whole blanched almonds
50g shelled hazelnuts
*4 small dried red chillis (see below)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
6 tablespoons olive oil (more might be necessary)
50g stale white bread, cut into 1.5cm cubes
100g piquillo peppers or 1 large red bell pepper, roasted peeled and seeded
1-1.5 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar (or mixture of the two)
1 teaspoon tomato purée
40 strands saffron, infused in 8 tablespoons boiling water
half teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika (or more to taste)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
* The original recipe suggests 4 dried ñoras peppers (small and round) and half a dried guindilla pepper (spiky in shape and like a large red chilli). Sweet and/or hot paprika can be used instead, although the result will obviously be a bit different.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the nuts on a tray and dry roast in the oven until light golden brown. This will take 10 minutes or so. Remove and cool. Rub the skins off the hazelnuts.
Meanwhile break open the dried peppers and remove the seeds; crumble peppers a little further. Place in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.
Fry two of the garlic cloves whole in the olive oil until coloured. Remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve. Use this oil to fry the cubes of bread until light brown. Keep the oil for later.
You can use a pestle and mortar to make the sauce (the traditional method), but a food processor is the easier option. Start by pounding/processing the bread, nuts, garlic and peppers (soaked and roasted). Keep the pepper water handy for later.
Tip this mixture (by now a course paste) into a large mixing bowl and stir in the olive oil, half the pepper water, vinegar, the remaining garlic clove (crushed), tomato purée, saffron and paprika. Check seasoning. If the sauce still looks too dry and thick add more oil and/or water. The sauce should have the consistency of a sloppy hummous.
Serve generously. (And, as mentioned earlier, the fierce flavours will mellow after a day or so.)