Salsa Season!

June 17th, 2007

On opposite ends of the Mediterranean Sea, I’ve discovered distinctive combinations - literally from soup to nuts - using almonds in savory, appetizing sauces. When I set out on the adventure of writing a book about almonds, I expected to primarily taste lots of almondy pastries and puddings: a sweet subject. So during the process of culinary and cultural digging on the subject of this Mediterranean ingredient, my taste buds have had a succession of surprises. This month, I’m testing almond recipes, beginning with a Salsa category, and I’d like to share a few discoveries. Now, in June, the timing is right for sauces made of garlic and almonds - a combo found in many culinary traditions. New garlic, with buds bulging under sheaths of purple-striped casing, is at its juiciest, freshest and easiest to mash and mix into vinaigrettes, sauces and marinades.

Lets begin with Romescu, a quintessentially Catalan sauce that shows up from March into April when calçots (local wild spring onions) are grilled. I was delighted to taste it recently in the northern Spanish city of Girona, served with not grilled but lightly batter-dipped and deep fried calçots. At the next table (within inches), a young Catalan gent attacked a plate of tiny snails, ceremoniously dipping each skewered caracol into the pink Romescu and then into a Catalan variation of the Mediterranean favorite garlic-infused mayonnaise, Ali-oli/ailloli. Romescu contains peppers, but in fact is only slightly spicy - not at all a Hot sauce. The almond presence is in the texture, depending on how the almonds are ground. Packaged pre-ground almonds are convenient, or grind small quantities of blanched almonds in a blender or spice grinder. To prepare salsa Romescu, use a blender if you are rushed, but get out the mortar and pestle for the most authentic results.

Romescu: 4 Tablespoons ground blanched almonds

2 T. garlic, finely minced then ground with 1 tsp. salt

a pinch of cayenne or Piment d’Espelette

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (or 3-4 T. crushed tomatoes, drained)

4 T. wine vinegar

3-4 T. olive oil - or as much as a cupful if you like a richer sauce

Mash the garlic and spices, adding the almonds gradually as the paste becomes thick. Continue to add the chopped tomato, then add vinegar (or use half lemon juice) gradually while mashing. Drizzle the oil in a spoonful at a time to create a smoother consistency, beating it in with a spoon. This recipe is adapted from the useful Time/Life book, Cuisine d’Espagne et du Portugal, 1970. A more complicated version in Penelope Casas’ excellent The Foods & Wines of Spain begins by boiling hot peppers in water and vinegar, then adding them to a bread-thickened sauce. For a little zip, sometimes I have added a bit of Ancho chili. Each kitchen has its own favorite approach to this sauce from Tarragona. In that ancient, coastal city, Romescu can describe a platter of shellfish (often the priciest item on the menu) bathed in the addictive stuff.

Next salsa post: Skordalia

Note to travelers: In épiceries and local grocery shops in northern Spain, look for “Salsa Calçots“, the Ferrer label, made in the Barcelona region.

1 Comment »

  1. Hélène says

    Congratulations, Marolyn for this 1st year. Many years are still to come and I think your website is fab, very interesting to learn all those different menus and eating habits in various countries.
    Salutations de Paris.

    June 28th, 2007 | #

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