A deliciously smoky, nutty, zesty sauce with sweet and tangy undertones that’s delicious with fish, pork, poultry, game, roasted vegetables, in stews, sauces, dressings, dips, spread on a piece of crusty bread, and much more! This Romesco Sauce recipe is easy to make and wonderfully versatile!
When my husband I visited Tarragona, a port city in the Catalonia region of Spain, we were impressed by its history, in particular its remarkable Roman ruins. There are over a dozen significant ancient Roman structures, including a large amphitheatre. This area used be known as the city of Tarraco, the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian peninsula, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We enjoyed exploring these ancient sites throughout Tarragona and, of course, sampling the city’s food, including its famous Romesco Sauce.
What is Romesco Sauce?
From the Catalonia region of Northeastern Spain, this rustic, all-purpose sauce originated in the city of Tarragona and enjoys a long history. Tradition goes that it was made by local fishermen who ground the ingredients in a mortar and pestle, like French tapenade or Italian pesto, to serve with their fresh catch of the day.
It’s ultimate origins are unclear with some pointing to the Romans (Tarragona was once a provincial capital of the Roman empire) while others point to the Moors (suggesting it’s from the Arabic word “rumiskal” during the Moorish reign of Spain, which means to mix). What’s certain though is that the sauce didn’t begin to resemble today’s version until the 16th century when a key ingredient, the chili pepper, was introduced from the New World.
There is no one standard recipe for Romesco and every Catalonian cook makes it differently. There are however some standard base ingredients which include mild red chilies, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil (lots of it), almonds (sometimes hazelnuts as well), bread, and vinegar.
How to Serve Romesco Sauce
Romesco is a wonderfully versatile, all-purpose sauce that can be enjoyed any number of ways. Enjoy it with fish, lamb, game, pork, lamb, poultry, rabbit, escargot, shellfish, roasted vegetables, over baked potatoes, on burgers, sandwiches, or simply spread on a piece of crusty bread. Add it to your potato and pasta salads or to soups, stews, and sauces for an extra flavor kick. Use it as a dip for crudités and fries. It’s also delicious in salad dressings where it goes especially well with bitter greens like frisée and escarole.
It’s especially delicious with grilled foods where the tanginess from the vinegar cuts through the charred smokiness of the food.
And of course in Catalonia a beloved tradition enjoying a variety of seasonal grilled spring onions, called calçots, drizzled with romesco sauce.
It’s a wonderfully vibrant, all-purpose condiment with a ton of flavor and personality!
How to Use Nora Peppers
One of the base ingredients is chili peppers – specifically the mild, round, reddish-brown dried ñora peppers that are ever popular in Catalonia. With its unique smoky chocolate undertones, the ñora pepper is a difficult flavor to replicate but a combination of roasted red bell pepper, paprika and smoked paprika is a an acceptable substitute.
Nora peppers are difficult to find but can be purchased online. If you’re able to source them and would like to use them instead of red bell pepper, here’s how:
Measure 2 ounces of dried nora peppers, place them in a glass bowl, and pour boiling water over them. Nora peppers have thick skins and you may need to puncture them with knife to allow the water to penetrate. If necessary place a saucer on top of the peppers to keep them submerged under water. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes until fully softened, then drain the peppers. Remove and discard the stems and seeds and use a knife to scrape the flesh from the skins. Discard the skins. Add the flesh to the grilled tomatoes and garlic in the food processor and proceed with the recipe as written.
Romesco Sauce Recipe
Let’s get started!
Roast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium high heat until lightly browned on all sides. Set aside.
Slice the bell pepper and tomatoes in half and lay them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet skin side up. Keep the skin on the garlic and lay the cloves on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 425F and roast for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are charred.
While still warm but cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the vegetables.
Place the grilled peppers, tomatoes and garlic in a food processor. (You can also use a blender but I prefer the texture created by the food processor which is a little more akin to the traditional method of grinding everything with a mortar and pestle.) Add half of the olive oil along with the remaining ingredients except for the bread. Pulse until smooth.
Add the bread and blend until smooth, gradually adding the remaining olive oil in a steady stream.
Taste and add more salt if you like and you can add more olive oil if you prefer a smoother consistency.
Transfer to a jar with a lid and chill in the refrigerator for at least a day before serving. Will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days.
For more classic sauce recipes be sure to try our:
- Bearnaise Sauce
- Au Jus
- Jerk Sauce
- Enchilada Sauce
- Bechamel Sauce
- Tartar Sauce
- Sweet Chili Sauce
- Teriyaki Sauce
- Sweet and Sour Sauce
- Hoisin Sauce
- Black Bean Sauce
Spanish Romesco Sauce
- 4 Roma tomatoes , cut in half
- 1 large red bell pepper , cut in half (seeds and membranes removed)
- * if using ñora peppers instead of red bell pepper, see blog post section "How to Use Nora Peppers" for instructions.
- 4-5 cloves garlic , leave skin on
- 1/4 cup (35 grams) whole skinned almonds (or combination almonds and hazelnuts)
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 slice toast , broken into pieces
- Preheat the oven to 425F.Roast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium high heat until lightly browned on all sides. Set aside. Slice the bell pepper and tomatoes in half and lay them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Keep the skin on the garlic and lay the cloves on the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are charred.While still warm but cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the vegetables. Discard the skins.
- Place the grilled peppers, tomatoes and garlic in a food processor. (You can also use a blender but I prefer the texture created by the food processor which is a little more akin to the traditional method of grinding everything with a mortar and pestle.) Add half of the olive oil along with the remaining ingredients except for the bread. Pulse until smooth.Add the bread and blend until smooth, gradually adding the remaining olive oil in a steady stream.Taste and add more salt if you like and you can add more olive oil if you prefer a smoother consistency.Transfer to a jar with a lid and chill in the refrigerator for at least a day before serving. Will keep in the fridge for up to a week.Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.