This sauce originates from Tarragona in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in northeast Spain. It goes excellent with a wide range of meats and vegetables but it is also central to a Catalonian tradition known as Calçotada. Calçotada is a large gathering of people who get together to gorge on barbecued calçots dipped in this sauce or Salvitxada, a close relative to Romesco.
Calçots are old onions that are planted in soil and continuously covered with extra soil each time it sprouts until the stem of the onion reaches a length of around 20 cm. They are only available towards the end of winter. These calçots are barbecued until they are completely charred. To eat them you need to remove the charred outer layer, dip in Romesco or Salvitxada sauce and then shoved in one’s hungry and salivating mouth. Fun and delicious! Calçots are quite hard to find if you don’t live in Spain but you could try substituting for thick spring onions which are cheaper and more widely available across the world.
The sauce that goes with these calçots was traditionally made with a variety of pepper/chilli known as Cuerno de Cabra (Goat Horn) but nowadays ñoras are more common. I am not too sure what they are called in English but I think they may be Red Ball Chillies. It might be hard to track down ñoras where you live but you can substitute it for Spanish Pimenton. If you can get your hands on Pimenton de Murcia instead of Pimenton de la Vera it would be better as the Pimenton from Murcia is made from these peppers instead of the ones from La Vera which use a combination of different peppers. However, if you can only find Pimentón de la Vera (which is widely available abroad) make sure you chose the dulce (sweet) variety as it does actually contain ñoras). And if worse comes to worst, you can always use whatever paprika you can get your hands on. Ñoras come dried and therefore you need to soak them in water before using. The skins and pips are discarded and only the miniscule amount of flesh is used.
100g toasted almonds (without skins)
80g toasted hazelnuts (without skins)
1 large garlic head
1 garlic clove
1 slice fried white bread
3 ñora peppers
1 dried cayenne chili (optional)
Regular olive oil (do not use Extra Virgen as it will overpower the sauce), at least 2 cups
½ cup vinegar, to taste
Salt, to taste
1 Roast tomatoes and whole head of garlic in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked. Leave to cool and then remove the skins from both the tomatoes and the garlic head.
2 Open the ñora peppers and discard the seeds. Soak in tepid water for 4 hours or if in a rush soak in boiling water for 5 minutes, however you will loose some of the flavour. Once soaked, the flesh should be plump; using the back of a knife (or spoon) scrape the inside of the pepper against the skin to remove the flesh.
3 In a large mortar and pestle (or food processor), grind the almonds, hazelnut, raw garlic clove and fried bread.
4 In a bowl add the skinned tomatoes, peeled roasted garlic, ñora pepper flesh, cayenne chilli, salt and the ingredients from step 3. Using a blender mix into a homogenous sauce.
5 Add a good glug of olive oil and continue blending. Add the vinegar and more olive oil so the sauce emulsifies. The amount of vinegar and oil is to one’s taste and desired thickness but don’t be scared to use loads of oil.