Sweet and smoky romesco sauce

With the start of summer, barbecues are being lighted all over Holland, which calls for sauces to match the goodies off the grill. Queen of the accompanying sauces in this respect is smoky, slightly sweet and tangy romesco sauce. It’s a course salsa made out of pepper, tomato, garlic, nuts and bread and it adds tons of flavour to anything you pair it with.

When you look for romesco recipes, the results will vary from pure tomato sauces to recipes using a base of only peppers. In mine, I’m using both peppers and tomatoes, which are grilled until the skins are charred and the flesh is sweet and tender. Sherry vinegar gives it a friendly, mediterranean tang and saffron, which is simply made for peppers and tomatoes, makes the whole thing fragrant and summery.

Originating in Catalunya, romesco sauce is traditionally served with grilled calçots, a large spring onion/small leek-like vegetable, which turns wonderfully sweet and tender when put on the barbecue. But this sauce is the perfect match for barbecued anything, really. And if, like me, you prefer the oven and griddle pan over outdoor cooking, there are numerous other dishes that lighten up with the addition of a bit of romesco sauce as well. You can add it to any roasted summer or winter vegetable, use it as a dip, stir it through cooked grains or use it to top sandwiches or soups… I made the batch in the picture to go with my grilled okras and used the left-overs the next day as an alternative topping for my black bean burgers.

Whatever dish you choose to combine it with, I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!


Smoky romesco sauce


  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 3 pomodori
  • 1 small red chilli pepper (optional)
  • 3 slices of white bread or sourdough, crusts removed and roughly torn (appr. 50 g)
  • 60 g almonds, skin on
  • 40 g hazelnuts, skin on
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • generous pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar (which is my favourite choice, but red wine vinegar works just as well)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Heat the oven grill.

Line a wire rack with aluminium foil. Halve the peppers, remove the stalks and seeds and place them, cut-side down, on the wire rack. Halve the tomatoes, remove the stem ends and place them, cut-side down, next to the peppers. If using, add the chilli pepper to the vegetables. Place the wire rack under the grill and grill the veg until the skins blister and turn black. In my oven, this takes 5 minutes, but it might be a good idea to stick around and keep an eye on things from the start. Alternatively, you can grill the uncut peppers on a hot barbecue, or char them in the flame of your stove.

When nicely charred, take out the veg. Turn off the grill and let the oven temperature cool to 190°C/375ºF/gas 5.

Put the peppers in a glass bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Meanwhile, discard the blackened tomato skins. Scoop out the seeds and put them into a sieve placed over a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, press out the liquid, then discard the seeds. Put the tomato flesh and juice into a food processor or blender. When the peppers and chilli are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and add the flesh to the food processor.


Line a baking sheet and spread the bread over half of it. Arrange the almonds, hazelnuts and garlic cloves over the other half. Drizzle the bread with a tablespoon of the olive oil and place the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Transfer the toasted bread and the almonds to the food processor. Rub the skins off the hazelnuts. Open the garlic cloves and scoop out the flesh. Add the hazelnuts, garlic, paprika, saffron, vinegar and the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil to the ingredients in the food processor. Season well, then whizz into a course sauce. If you like, you can make it a bit thinner with some extra olive oil, vinegar or water.

Set aside for a while for the flavours to develop, then serve alongside your favourite roasted vegetables or grains, or use to top my grilled okras.

Stored in a jar the sauce will keep in the fridge for up to a week.