I’ve had an exhilarating few weeks since the Green Tomato Chutney post that closed the summer growing season.
A group of chefs from El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain visited Denver to create a pop-up dinner at the Halcyon Hotel a few weeks ago. A pop-up dinner is a popular concept that high-end, often Michelin Starred restaurants, do around the world to showcase their culinary creativity and bring their local traditions to a new space. Part of the Roca team’s goal with traveling to other countries or cities, is to select two (lucky) students to go to their restaurant for an all-paid four-month internship, to do so they work with a hospitality focused university in each city, which is how Metro State University of Denver was chosen, and how I got to work with the chefs and an array of hardworking students from our school during an exciting week of molecular gastronomy and Catalan specialties.
It was an exciting opportunity to work with such creative individuals and get an inside peek of their mental process and execution when it comes to food and how to present it to a crowd of curios diners. But perhaps the most exciting part of the entire experience was the opportunity to coach a student, who was in the class I taught in the spring semester, to see her work with confidence and positive demeanor through the week, and raise to the top of the list earning the internship. The dinners were a success and we said goodbye to the chefs after a week of hard work and constant learning.
I, also, studied for and passed the introductory level of the Court of Master Sommeliers, which is the door to becoming a certified sommelier, a goal I had since the beginning of the year when I decided to rejoined the restaurant workforce this time trying my luck at the front of the house rather than the kitchen. Now I’m faced with an exciting four months before my next exam, the Certified Sommelier exam, which encompasses deeper knowledge of wine regions around the world, their geography, history, wine laws, most-known producers, viticulture, proper service, and blind tasting of four wines in 24 minutes. Yikes!
My dinning room table is crowded with wine books, flashcards, tasting notes, and colorful markers to quickly identify different subjects in the books. This new journey means I need to study the world through wine, and to some extend through food, as I also have to learn good food and wine pairings and typical foods of the different wine regions.
One night, buried in flashcards, I told Scott, “I’m going to do a region a week and we’ll pair it with wine and see how it goes,” which means I need to research traditional recipes to prepare at home as a way to immerse myself in each region. It also means I need to organize myself, and ignore the early setting sun and the perceived shorter hours of the days during the winter months, to be able to accomplish at least a couple of dishes per region and a wine pairing for each before March.
Since I had just spent a week with the Spanish chefs I thought to start with a simple dish using a popular Spanish recipe: Romesco sauce. I wanted to know more about it so I searched the Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, where I usually find the history behind a dish, ingredients, and cooking techniques. I found out that the widely accepted concept of a Romesco sauce isn’t quite as authentic as I had hoped. I had always thought of a romesco sauce as a red pepper sauce with almonds and bread, which is a good compromise and quite a delicious sauce, but not the authentic Catalan recipe based heavily on garlic, accompanied by tomato, dried sweet peppers, loads of olive oil, and nuts, including hazelnuts and almonds.
Since I had already purchased fifteen peppers it was too late to change course, so I followed a red pepper based ‘romesco sauce’ recipe from Serious Eats and multiplied it by 7 to use all of the peppers I had, making enough to freeze in jars for the winter. This is a versatile condiment to have on hand; I use it on toasted bread with olives and greens for a snack, mix a little into a vinaigrette to add interest, top any pasta, meat, or even soups, or great as a dip.
I’m settling with this pepper sauce, or fake romesco, for the time being, but I have my eye on the Salsa Romesco recipe I found in “La Cocina de Mama,” by Penelope Casas, a traditional Spanish cuisine book written by a Spanish woman who traveled the country looking for traditional recipes from each region. I’ll report back once I get to it and find a good pairing for it. For now here are the differences on the ingredients between a traditional Catalan romesco (first recipe) and a red pepper romesco (bottom recipe). Both sound delicious.
The recipe calls for:
32 whole peeled garlic cloves
1/2 plum tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 dried sweet red peppers – she uses ñora peppers indigenous of the area
24 blanched almonds
24 blanched hazelnuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Roast and peel garlic and tomato. Rehydrate peppers. Toast nuts. Puree all ingredients.
Compared to the ‘red pepper romesco sauce’ which calls for:
1 1-inch thick slice of crusty bread, crust removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large tomato
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup almonds
2 medium red bell peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Toast bread and almonds. Roast and peel peppers and tomatoes. Puree all ingredients.