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Romesco, the Sauce of Summer

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When my little sister, Kate, turned 21 recently, among other gifts like a new license and a series of SoCo and lime shots, she received a Spanish cookbook by Anya von Bremzen, a contributing editor at Travel and Leisure with whom she happened to have spent a few weeks this summer in a Turkish resort town. (more on Turkish recipes here).

The cookbook, The New Spanish Table, is a compilation of Spanish food from all corners of the country, and reading it quickly brought back memories of my trip to Spain with Kate in December '08. We visited Madrid, Cordoba, and Granada, and in between obsessing over the Allhambra and La Mezquita, we ate our fill of churros with chocolate and patatas bravas, crisped potatoes with a rich, spicy tomato sauce. We were particularly obsessed with one Madrid restaurant's rendition of this classic potato dish, which they called simply "Pistou." It was a plate of thinly fried potatoes, covered in a ratatouille-like sauce and topped with an oozy fried egg.

Though we're excited to try Anya's recipe for patatas bravas, which looks quite approachable, and which we may even bastardize with a fried-egg topping, our first excursion into the book was a simple Romesco sauce. It's a slightly pungent, rich dip, thickened with bread, nuts, and oil, and flavored with paprika. Though its ingredients are mainly pantry staples, their combination produces a flavor that's distinctly foreign, and it spices up local produce and fish as simple and fresh as cod, corn and tomatoes.

Like a pesto, you don't have to turn on the oven to make it, and you can keep it in the fridge for a decent amount of time. I think it can get overlooked because pesto is just so infinitely likable, but here's my plea to give romesco a try. I can't wait to hear what you end up using it on.

--Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen

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Beer-Poached Cod with Romesco Sauce

This recipe takes the split-second timing out of cooking fish. Because the cod is poached in beer, you don't have to worry about it drying out. If you need to leave it for a couple minutes while you finish the rest of the meal, no one will know the difference. I owe thanks to my mother for explaining to me about the wonders of poaching in beer. And I owe Spain (see above), for telling me to top said fish with romesco sauce

Ingredients
2 1/2 pounds cod filet
1/2 bottle beer
fresh or dried herbs
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 batch romesco sauce (recipe follows)

Pour the beer, herbs, and onion in a large pot. Bring it to the boil.

If you have a steamer basket, arrange the cod in it and put it into the pan once the beer has boiled. If not, simply place the cod on the boiling beer.

Cover the pot and let poach for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside until ready to serve (no longer than about 15 minutes).

Spread romesco sauce on each plate, then top with a serving of cod and garnish with herbs. Pass extra romesco on the side.

Romesco Sauce
Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients
1 small red bell pepper in a coarse dice
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup mixed nuts: use almonds, hazelnuts and/or walnuts
4 slices dried-out baguette, cubed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large tomato, as much of the skin off as possible, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
salt to taste

Cover the pepper and hot pepper with about 1/2 cup of boiling water. Let sit about 15 minutes, or until ready to cook.

Meanwhile, fry the nuts in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add the cubed baguette and cook until the nuts are very fragrant and the bread is golden. Pour into a bowl (don't leave in the pan or they'll keep cooking).

Add the peppers and their water, the nuts, bread, tomato, paprika, and cayenne in the blender and puree into a paste. Slowly add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and puree until the mixture is well combined. Remove to a bowl, stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and taste for salt. Set aside for at least half an hour. Stir in the last tablespoon of vinegar just before serving. Taste for salt, then spoon over fish or meats.

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