12 September 2010
I always think the sauce section of a cookbook gets short shrift. Everyone is always drawn to the big meats, the glistening shrimp, or the towering desserts. The poor little sauce section sits, crammed in the back of the book, unillustrated, hoping someone might notice or even use it. But I think sauces are often the best thing a cookbook has going for it. After all, a competent cook knows how to grill a steak or pan-roast a fish, and those techniques don't change, and they don't take hundreds of cookbooks to master. But what you do to that fish or meat, how you dress that salad, that's where the "wow" factor can lie.
Another reason I like sauce, particularly thick ones, is that they're just good to have a round. You can put them under shrimp or over chicken. You can drizzle them over vegetables. You can spread them over bread or in a sandwich, you can add them to part of a cheese plate.
I think of great sauces, like sauce gribiche, which make an excellent dressing for cauliflower. I think of Mexican mole, or Thai peanut sauce, or tzatziki, which I'd happily plop over any rice dish I encounter.
Today, we have romesco sauce, the Mediterranean cousin of muhammara and salvitxada and ajvar. It is a thick sauce made of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, spicy pepper, and thickened with bread and nuts. You can serve it as a dip, you can serve it as a sauce for shrimp, you can plop it over grilled leeks, or you can just sneak spoonfuls of it from the fridge, like I do.
P.S. We're going on vacation (sans internet and phones) for two whole weeks. We can't wait, but comments and posting around here will be a bit slower than usual. Don't worry though, we've got new posts ready to go up in our absence, so stay tuned!
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1 small ancho chile, or other dried hot chile, seeds removed and soaked in hot water
1/2 cup cubed firm white bread
1/2 a garlic clove
2 small plum tomatoes, halved, seeds removed, and chopped
2 tbl sherry vinegar
olive oil, about 1/3 - 1/2 cup
1. Roast pepper directly over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning frequently, until charred all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes. Peel, core and seed the pepper and cut it into thick strips.
2. Pulse almonds in a spice grinder to grind to a coarse grind.
3. Place all the ingredients (roasted pepper, almonds, chile, bread, garlic, tomato, vinegar, oil, salt). Pulse to form a paste, it should be fairly smooth, but still have some small chunks. Taste for seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to use.