Thursday, May 27, 2010

Romesco Sauce, Grilled Spring Onions, and Roasted Potatoes

I have been pouring over local menus in order to plan a graduation dinner party next month. This is a terribly unproductive process for me. You see, I get distracted by the food descriptions and the party planning gets put on hold while I obsessively take notes on interesting flavor combinations and ingredients I must use ASAP.

A recent description that rendered me unproductive (at party planning) and spawned my latest cooking project was Mercat a la Planxa's grilled green onions with salbitxada, a type of romesco sauce, and The Purple Pig's charred ramps and scallions with romseco sauce.

Romesco sauce is an absolutely wonderful combination of ancho chiles, toasted hazelnuts, toasted almonds, toasted bread, tomatoes, paprika, and garlic. If you usually shy away from chiles, don't worry, ancho chiles are more tangy than spicy. The paprika adds a nice kick and the toasted nuts and bread add a richness to the sauce. This versatile sauce from Catalan is often served with vegetables, flat bread, fish, shrimp, or grilled chicken.

Sadly my Whole Foods was out of ramps so instead I bought lovely spring onions. I had bookmarked a recipe for romesco potatoes from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a couple months ago. I was excited to try her romesco sauce recipe and thought the potatoes would be a perfect accompaniment to the grilled onions.

The result was one of the best meals I've had at home in a long time.

People, this sauce is so delicious that you will want to put it on everything. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I just sneaked a spoonful of the sauce straight from the fridge in the middle of writing this hunger-inducing post.

Romesco Sauce (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
5 dried ancho chiles
2 tbsp raw almonds
2 tbsp blanched hazelnuts (or you can toast them with the almonds, and then transfer them to a textured kitchen towel and rub together to remove the skins)
1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice country bread, about 1" thick
1/3 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes (diced or puree)
*2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 lemon, for juicing
*1 tsp of sherry vinegar
*1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
* Indicates my changes to the original recipe

Preheat oven to 375. Slit the ancho chiles lengthwise, open, and discard seeds and stem. In a medium bowl, cover the ancho chiles with hot water and soak until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels.

Meanwhile, in a pie plate, toast hazelnuts and almonds in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until they are fragrant and golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

Heat a large skillet over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, wait a minute until hot, and fry the bread on both sides until golden. Remove from pan and cool. Slice into 1" cubes and set aside.

Return pan to the stove over high heat. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add chiles and sauté for two minutes. Add tomatoes, season with 1/2 tsp salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the tomato juices have evaporated. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine the toasted hazelnuts, toasted almonds, fried bread, and garlic cloves until coarsely ground.

Add the ancho chile and tomato and pulse for another minute. With the machine on, slowly pour in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil and process until blended and smooth. The sauce will “break” (separate into solids and oil). Scrape the sauce into a bowl, stir in lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and parsley. Season with paprika and more salt, if needed.

The romesco sauce is best if made a day in advance. Chill overnight to allow flavors to meld. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Romesco Potatoes (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (full size or minis)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs + 2 tsp thyme leaves
1 cup Romesco sauce
2 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Place potatoes in a roasting pan and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and a heaping teaspoon of salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Roast potatoes until tender when pierced, about 55 minutes for medium to full sized potatoes (30 minutes for minis). Remove from oven. Discard bay leaves and thyme. Set aside roasted garlic.

Heat a large skillet on high for 2 minutes. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, reduce heat to medium-high. Add the roasted potatoes and smash them with a fork until a little broken up. Season with thyme leaves, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Sauté for 6 to 8 minutes until potatoes are crispy on one side. Flip the potatoes to crispen and brown on the other side for another 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off heat.

Generously spoon the romesco sauce over the potatoes. Squeeze roasted garlic over the potatoes. Sprinkle parsley on top. Serve while hot.

The romesco potatoes were so good that I couldn't wait to come home the next day and eat the leftovers for dinner. And I rarely eat the same thing two nights in a row.

Grilled Green Onions with Romesco Sauce
8-10 green onions
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush green onions with olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Grill for 3 minutes until slightly charred, rotating once. Alternatively, place seasoned green onion under the broiler for a couple minutes.

Serve with romesco sauce on the side. Peel back the first layer of the onion before eating. Eating this will get messy, but it is so worth it.

And if you find yourself at The Purple Pig, do yourself a favor and order the grilled ramps. You will thank me endlessly.

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