Why It Works
- Roasting the tomatoes and garlic reduces their water content, concentrates their flavor, and intensifies their sweetness.
- A small amount of raw garlic adds pungency that the roasted garlic lacks.
- Dried peppers, such as ñora peppers (or ancho, if you can't find ñoras), give the sauce more depth and complexity.
Spain's romesco sauce is rich and hearty, packed with almonds or hazelnuts, fruity roasted tomatoes, garlic, chocolaty and earthy dried peppers, olive oil, and more. It also just happens to be vegan.
This sauce lends itself extremely well to interpretation: You can blend it until it's thin and smooth, or leave it thick and chunky. You can use a mortar and pestle for a more rustic result and (we think) better flavor, or blitz it together in just a few minutes using a food processor or blender. Even the exact proportions of ingredients are flexible. Make it, then adjust it to your own tastes.
- 2 or 3 tomatoes (5 1/5 ounces or 150g each), cored (see note)
- 1 medium head garlic, unpeeled, split in half
- 1 ounce (30g) dried ñora peppers (about 4) or ancho chili peppers (about 3); see note
- 1 slice toasted or stale bread (1 1/2 ounces; 40g), any thick and heavy crusts removed, bread broken into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) red wine or sherry vinegar, plus more if desired
- 1/2 cup skinned and toasted almonds and/or hazelnuts (2 3/4 ounces; 80g); see note
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if desired
- Kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place tomatoes and half of the garlic head on it. Roast in the oven until tomatoes are wrinkled and lightly charred in spots and garlic is soft, about 1 hour. Let cool.
Meanwhile, place dried peppers in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Place a weight or wet paper towel on top to help submerge the peppers. Let stand until peppers are fully softened, 30 minutes to 1 hour. If the peppers are very stubborn (as thick-skinned ñoras can be), you may need to tear a small hole in them to let water penetrate inside.
Drain peppers and discard stems and seeds. Using a paring knife, carefully scrape the flesh from the skins. Discard skins. Peel skins from tomatoes and roasted garlic.
To Make the Sauce Using a Mortar and Pestle: Add 3 cloves roasted garlic and 1 or 2 cloves skinned raw garlic to the mortar. (Feel free to make this recipe more or less garlicky, according to your own tastes, by adding or subtracting roasted or raw garlic.) Smash garlic to a paste with the pestle.
Add bread and moisten with vinegar. Smash to a paste. Add nuts and smash as finely as you can. The mixture should have the consistency of a rough paste when you're done.
Smash in the scraped pepper flesh, followed by the skinned roasted tomatoes. Mix in olive oil until thoroughly combined. Season with salt. Add more oil, 1 tablespoon (15ml) at a time, if a thinner, richer sauce is desired. Add more vinegar to taste as well.
To Make the Sauce Using a Countertop Blender or Immersion Blender: Add 3 cloves roasted garlic and 2 cloves skinned raw garlic to the jar of a blender, or blending container if using an immersion blender. (You can use more or less roasted and raw garlic, as desired, according to your own tastes.) Add nuts. Blend until finely processed, scraping down sides as necessary.
Blend in skinned roasted tomatoes and scraped pepper flesh. Add bread, olive oil, and vinegar, and blend until smooth. (How smooth to make it is up to you; some texture is okay.) Season with salt and add more oil and vinegar to taste, if desired.
To Make the Sauce Using a Food Processor: In the bowl of a food processor, combine 3 cloves roasted garlic and 2 cloves skinned raw garlic (use more or less roasted and raw garlic, as desired, according to your own tastes), along with bread and nuts. Process, scraping down sides as necessary, until finely chopped.
Add skinned roasted tomatoes and scraped pepper flesh and process until a thick, rough paste forms. Process in olive oil and vinegar, then season with salt. Add more vinegar and olive oil, as desired, to adjust taste and texture.
Using 3 tomatoes instead of 2 will make a thinner, milder sauce.
Ñora peppers, with their earthy bitterness and molasses-like depth, are more traditional in this sauce. If you can't find them, ancho chili peppers are a good substitute.
Different nuts will give the sauce different flavors. Almonds and hazelnuts are most traditional, but you can also try adding pine nuts or walnuts. Experiment to see what you like most.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Romesco sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.