Romesco, a Spanish sauce with a base of red peppers and either almonds or hazelnuts, lends itself to many improvisations and uses. Some have claimed that their inner flamenco is seduced before they reach the second syllable, causing uncontrollable incantations…baile…baile..baile. Play with it. Consider it an adjective with endless possibilities. Imagine flames dancing off the skins of red peppers, blackening the hearts of lost lovers. Being wooed by the laughter of spices. Think of temptation and the passion of sinners. Or high heels strolling across the promenades of Barcelona. Go ahead and indulge yourself. It’s your ticket for a 10-cent dance. I think of my children, especially my son, who will not be seen in public eating a vegetable, let alone a bell pepper. But put him in the same room as a bowl of romesco and watch out. The first time he ate romesco it was love at first bite. I often use it on polenta, pasta, and as a sauce for pizza. Watch how it perks up a grilled cheese sandwich. When I’m craving the comfort of a scrambled egg sandwich, I mix some in while stirring the eggs around the frying pan. It’s a gift each time I make it.
I place two or three red or orange bell peppers on the stovetop, turn the flame up high and cremate them, watching the carbon float to the ceiling. If I have a tomato, I blister it, as well. I work with what I have on hand. If I don’t have almonds or hazelnuts, I substitute Brazil or walnuts — sometimes combining them. I chop garlic (2-3 cloves or more) in a food processor, add the nuts and toasted bread or bread crumbs, red pepper flakes or chile powder and process it to a paste. I add the bell peppers, tomato (if using), a few quick pours of olive oil (approx. 2 Tbsp.), salt, and a tablespoon or two of balsamic or sherry vinegar and blend together. I like to substitute a few drops of Saba Dressing for the vinegar. I suggest looking at this recipe from The New York Times before starting off on your own improvisational wanderings.
While you’re tasting it, don’t be surprised when you start seeing a family of fingers climbing over themselves into the food processor bowl. They only want to help you and without fail, will tell you that it tastes different than the last time you made it. These same, very helpful fingers, will start cutting bread and smearing it with romesco. Slapping them away doesn’t work. You only have yourself to blame.