Romesco sauce is a popular tomato, peppers, and almonds-based recipe that originated in Catalonia, Spain.
It's the perfect condiment for everything grilled. You can make a quick romesco in 5 minutes with pantry staples, or a more authentic one in about 45. We'll show you both methods.
What is romesco sauce?
Romesco sauce is one of the recipes that best represent the essence of Mediterranean cuisine. It's made with simple and healthy ingredients and packed with enough flavor to be served on top of pretty much anything, from grilled veggies and tofu to pasta and even pizza.
What country is romesco sauce from?
This naturally vegan recipe was first created around the 1890s in the neighborhood of "el Serrallo" in Tarragona, a port city in northeastern Spain’s Catalonia region, between Barcelona and Valencia.
It was the fisherman from the city of Tarragona who came up with the first version of this sauce. They experimented with what they had on board, which back then was stale bread, nuts, garlic, dried peppers, stale wine, and sometimes fish broth.
Quickly, the sauce started to spread on the mainland, where it was refined to be less bold. Tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar were added. This was the first rendition of romesco as we know it today.
What does romesco sauce taste like?
In essence, romesco tastes like a red pepper pesto without parmesan cheese. It's creamy, rustic, nutty, slightly smokey, and a little spicy.
And although people that come from different areas in Catalonia claim that their recipe is original, there is no standardized recipe for romesco. This means that romesco tastes different in different cities, and even in different neighborhoods and families in the same city.
Take the use of fried bread for example. Some like to add it to the sauce, some don't. Or the nuts. Some add almonds, some hazelnuts, and some add both. Others don't put nuts at all. And the variations go on for other ingredients such as chili, onions, parsley, sherry vinegar, and more.
What are ñora peppers?
An ingredient that is almost always mentioned in authentic romesco recipes is Ñora pepper. Ñora is a small, round, earthy, and sweet-fleshed red pepper that is used dry. It's the same pepper often used in paella, chorizo, and other Spanish stews and soups.
The challenge with ñora peppers is that they are hard to find outside of Spain, and they are also tricky to handle. And so we do not use them in our romesco sauce recipe.
How to replace ñora peppers in romesco sauce?
The best way to replace ñora peppers is with a combination of roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Or roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
We tested many recipes of romesco sauce and we settled on two. One is a quick romesco sauce you can make in 5 minutes in a food processor with ready-made, jarred roasted bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes in oil.
The other is more similar to the original Catalonian romesco sauce. We make it with pan-fried bread in olive oil and garlic, and bell peppers and tomatoes roasted in the oven with garlic.
Both variations are naturally vegan, healthy, and delicious. Pick one based on how much time you have at hand. You won't be disappointed.
5-minute romesco sauce
Red peppers: use roasted and jarred red peppers, drained well from their liquid. They are meaty, a little acidic, and slightly charred. Perfect for this preparation.
Sun-dried tomatoes: choose sun-dried tomatoes in oil, and drain them well before use. They are packed with flavor and umami which gives depth to the sauce.
Nuts: we use both almonds and hazelnuts. You can use just almonds if you prefer, best if unsalted. Raw or toasted is indifferent. Other nuts that work well with this combination of ingredients are walnuts and pinenuts, but then you'll be making a red pepper pesto more than a romesco sauce.
Garlic: a small clove, cut in half lengthwise and deprived of its core.
Red pepper flakes: they add a touch of heat.
Paprika: Pimentón or Spanish paprika is best thanks to its smokey, mildly spicy flavor. If you can't find pimentón settle for standard smoked paprika or regular paprika.
Olive oil: we recommend extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor and nutrition profile. Regular olive oil is also ok.
Vinegar: we use red wine vinegar. You can also use white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar. We do not recommend lemon juice for this recipe.
Salt: sea salt or kosher salt is best. Salt is necessary to add flavor.
Parsley: we like to add finely chopped flat-leaf parsley on top. But that's optional.
45-minute romesco sauce
Red peppers: use fresh red bell peppers. You'll need 2 medium.
Tomatoes: red cherry tomatoes, or any other small tomato variety. About 10 small tomatoes.
Bread: a slice of white bread. About 3 ounces or 80 grams.
Garlic: you'll need 2 to 3 garlic cloves for this romesco sauce recipe.
The other ingredients are the same as for the quick romesco sauce listed above.
5-minute romesco sauce
Cut the garlic in half lengthwise, remove its core (if any), and add the clove to the blender together with almonds, hazelnuts, salt, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
Blend for a minute till you have coarse nut flour.
Add jarred roasted bell peppers (drained), sun-dried tomatoes in oil (drained), extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar.
Blend until you have a creamy, thick, and rustic romesco sauce. If you want a thinner sauce, then add more oil or cold water until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and adjust for salt, heat, and acidity before serving as a dip, sauce, or spread.
45-minute romesco sauce
Roast peppers and tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 390°F or 200°C. Cut the red bell peppers in half, remove seeds and stems and arrange them on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and crush a clove of garlic and add them to the baking tray.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until the peppers are soft and charred.
Transfer bell peppers to a bowl and cover with a plate. Let cool for 15 minutes. Set tomatoes and garlic aside.
After 15 minutes, when the bell peppers have cooled down a little, but are not completely cold, peel them. Try not to use water here, as the water would wash off the flavor from the peppers.
Pan-fry the bread
Cut a slice of bread into dice. To a skillet, add the diced bread, half of the olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
Fry the bread on medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly toasted. Stir often and don't burn the spices and the garlic.
Add all ingredients to a food processor, including the roasted garlic and the pan-fried garlic (discard peel).
Blend until you get a creamy and rustic romesco sauce. Taste and adjust for salt, heat, and acidity. This version might need an extra tablespoon of vinegar than the quick version. Adjust based on your taste.
Romesco sauce is versatile. In Spain, the most common way of serving it is as a dip with grilled calçots, a type of green onion grown in Valls, a city near Tarragona in Catalonia.
But romesco can bring to life a lot more dishes than that. Try it on air-fried, oven-roasted, or grilled vegetables. Eggplants, zucchini, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower, are delicious dipped or covered in romesco sauce. Not to mention oven-roasted or air-fried potatoes.
We even tried it with grilled tofu, and it was absolutely delicious. One of our favorite ways of eating grilled tofu right now.
Another traditional way of eating romesco is on fish. But since we rarely consume fish, we tried it on our vegan fish recipe. And oh my gosh! It was unbelievable. All the Mediterranean flavors come together in this Spanish-Italian-inspired dish.
And what about pasta with romesco sauce? We had to try! And apologies to the Spaniards reading this blog. But romesco sauce is awesome on pasta too. It really behaves like pesto, and it coats the pasta perfectly. All you have to do is to thin the sauce with some pasta cooking water, then toss the pasta in, and you are done.
We added some vegan parmesan, toasted pine nuts, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top for an extra kick.
Romesco sauce is similar in composition, method, and in use to Italian pesto. It's believed that like pesto, romesco too was traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.
If you like romesco sauce, you might also like these creamy condiments:
- Vegan basil pesto: a classic Italian recipe made vegan. With this recipe, you can create 9 different flavor variations of pesto, such as red pepper pesto and sun-dried tomato pesto
- Green goddess dressing: pairs well with roasted vegetables as well as raw veggies
- Chipotle sauce: sweet, velvety, and zesty. Drizzle chipotle sauce on potatoes and flatbread pizza for an immediate upgrade
- Vegan mayo: a perfect thick sauce that works wonderfully in vegan tuna and vegan egg salad
- Tahini sauce: a 5-min recipe that works with most vegan salads and fresh vegetables
Store romesco sauce in an airtight container like a mason jar in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze romesco sauce for up to 6 months. To do so, transfer to a jar or to ice cube trays (like if you were freezing pesto sauce).
Thawing depends on how you want to use it. To use as a dip or spread, thaw in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight. To use with pasta, melt the frozen romesco with pasta cooking water. Do not freeze multiple times.
For more condiment ideas, check out our dressing and sauces category page.
- Food processor or blender
- ⅓ cup almonds
- ¼ cup hazelnuts or more almonds
- ½ teaspoon paprika smoked
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup jarred roasted bell peppers drained
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Peel and cut the garlic in half lengthwise, remove its core (if any), and add the clove to the blender together with almonds, hazelnuts, salt, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
- Blend for a minute till you have coarse nut flour.
- Add jarred roasted bell peppers (drained), sun-dried tomatoes in oil (drained), extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar.
- Blend until you have a creamy, thick, and rustic romesco sauce. If you want a thinner sauce, then add more oil or cold water until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and adjust for salt, heat, and acidity before serving as a dip, sauce, or spread.