Despite the cool changeable weather here in Paris lately (or maybe because of it?) I've been dreaming of sunny Spain and longing for the great food we found in Catalonia last autumn. And so I finally pulled out the slim touristy cookbook I bought down south (well, it was the only one on regional cuisine I could find in English) and leafed through it.
The cool wet spring we've had means fresh produce is not at the peak it should be right now, which made a lot of the Catalonian dishes problematic bordering on impossible. And then I saw the recipe for romesco sauce, which miraculously called for dried sweet peppers (though fresh ones could be substituted). Hurrah, I had picked up some of those peppers at the market for just such an occasion!
Once I finished making the sauce, I realized there was a lot of it. I used a few tablespoons as an unusual dressing for chicken breast burgers (very tasty) but I still had a good 3/4 cup of the stuff. And so I decided to get creative and came up with this Catalonian-influenced cold salad. I thought the flavours mixed together beautifully, the sweet pepper flavour complimented by the occasional sharp tang of lemon. And texturally, too, it made a lovely marriage: meaty chickpeas and the slightly gritty, nutty sauce. On a bed of sharp roquette (arugula) it was perfect: filling but healthy and fresh.
The following may seem like a lot of work for a simple salad, but actually the romesco sauce is extremely versatile and you'll still have some left over. Try it on your hamburgers and chicken burgers, in a light vegetable soup, spread on a bit of toasted bread that has been brushed with fresh garlic (a Spanish bruschetta). It should last a week in the fridge or you can freeze it in small quantities and defrost it as you need it.
2 dried sweet peppers (or you can substitute 2 fresh red peppers, grilled and the skin and seeds removed)
1 dried hot pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1 slice of bread, torn in pieces
1/2 -3/4 cup olive oil depending on how thick you want to make the sauce
The original recipe I consulted called for frying the sweet peppers in olive oil to start. Now this was very entertaining in that they popped up like balloons, but I found that they became a bit tough and it was hard too soften them all over. The second time I made the sauce, I boiled them in a small pot of water until soft and reserved the water to use to thin the sauce as I went along. The taste was just as good, but the overall oil used was less and I preferred it for this reason. You can follow your instincts about tradition vs. healthy eating. So fry on all sides or cover with boiling water and simmer for ten minutes.
In the meantime, in a small frying pan put a little olive oil and the nuts. Fry them until golden on all sides, being very careful to watch that they do not burn. (They will do so in a second if you turn your back - watch them carefully!). Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and add the bread, torn in pieces. Again, brown them carefully watching to make sure they do not burn.
Toss the nuts, fried bread, peppers torn in pieces, garlic and olive oil from the frying in a blender or small immersion blender containter and zap them. Slowly add a little olive oil and/or pepper water to thin as you go, to achieve the consistency you want. It's better to leave the initial sauce more of a paste consistency and then thin it down as you use it. (If nothing else, it's easier to add liquid than to take it away!)
So now you have the Romesco sauce.
For the chickpea salad you'll need:
3-4 Tbs Romesco sauce
2 cups cooked chickpeas
4-5 preserved lemons, cut in eighths
1 ripe red tomato, chopped
2-3 anchovies (optional)
2 large handfuls of arugula
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2-3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Toss everything but the arugula until well mixed and the chickpeas are coated with sauce. Serve on a bed of arugula at room temperature.
When I made this for our weekend potluck barbecue, I forgot to buy the arugula and had to serve it without. And then some bright spark pointed out the fresh arugula growing in a box on the terrace. Duh....didn't think of that...
Yes at times I am an absent-minded chef. D'oh!