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Yes indeed, the recipe of the month for October is an excuse to use that play on words, romanesco with romesco. It’s also an excuse to show this photo of these two beauties from Gortnanain farm that are on our menu for the short season we will have them. And finally, it’s an excuse to give a recipe for the amazing and amazingly versatile Spanish – or Catalan even – sauce or dip made from roasted peppers, almonds and bread.
When Uncle Monty in Withnail and I claimed to find the cauliflower more beautiful than the rose, he might have had the tip of his tongue in his cheek. Or he might have been looking at the mind-bogglingly complex beauty of a romanesco. Romanesco’s extraordinary appearance – bright green florets in a fractal arrangement of self-repeating structures – makes it look like a modern novelty variation of cauliflower, but it is in fact a separate vegetable in its own right, dating back at least to the 16th century, one dreamed up by that crazy inventor, Mother Nature.
While its flavour is similar to cauliflower, it has a sweeter, nutty character with some of the green edginess of broccoli that is especially well drawn out by being cooked with a combination of water and some dry heat from roasting or grilling. That said, it is also really good as a raw crudite, and you use it like that also with this romesco sauce.
The sauce is one that you will find incredibly useful once you make a batch. Serve it for dinner but keep some back for later and you’ll find yourself spreading the leftovers on toast, stirring it through pasta, spicing up your eggs, cheese and pancakes or just dunking tortilla chips and cold potatoes into it as a snack.
As is the way with old classics, there is no absolutely correct way to make it. The essential character is the combination of roasted peppers and garlic with almonds, bread and olive oil. In this version, it is spiced with both sweet and hot smoked paprika, but you could also use fresh or dried chillies, and how much kick you give it is completely up to you. The texture too can range from completely smooth to chunky, depending on your own taste and how you intend to use it, and is determined simply by how long you blend it or whether you choose to give it only a few short pulses in the food processor.
I’ve added some grilled leeks to this recipe because the combination of sweet leeks and hot, smoky romesco is classic; you could also serve it with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, rapini or long flat beans.
the romesco sauce:
4 roasted red bell peppers, peeled
2 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled & de-seeded, or 2 tablespoons of tinned tomato flesh
4 garlic cloves, roasted
2 thick slices of white bread, toasted or fried in olive oil
125g blanched almonds, toasted
1 Tbsp each of hot and sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 head of romanesco, broken into florets, halved lengthways if too large
4-6 small thin leeks
To make the romesco, put everything in a food processor and blend to the consistency you prefer. Store in the fridge but serve it at room temperature.
To prepare the romanesco, first steam the florets for 2 minutes. Then heat a heavy iron pan over high heat and add the steamed florets. Toss them on the dry, hot pan for a 1-2 minutes until they have begun to colour a little. Add a splash of water, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt, cover the pan, lower the heat and let the florets braise for 2-3 minutes, until they are tender but still firm.
Prepare the leeks by first trimming away most of the green tops and the outer leaves. Make a short cut into the tops and wash the leeks well. If they are long, cut the leeks in two.
Now, cook them in a similar way to the romanesco. First, steam them for a few minutes, then dry roast them on a heavy pan or iron griddle; if necessary, add a little water and cook the leeks a little more under a lid. This last stage shouldn't be necessary for small or thin leeks.
Serve the vegetables as finger food with the romesco as a dip, or as a knife & fork starter with the romesco smeared on the plate underneath.