Grilled Leeks with Romesco Sauce
Over at Serious Eats, I've been on the sauce trail for nearly a year now. This has me concocted sauces nearly as much as I've been grilling, which now dictates a life constantly on the search for new condiments to try out at home, and pair with grilling as often as possible. Romesco—a roasted red pepper and almond spread originating in the Catalonia area of Spain—is one stellar example of this. As soon as I tried it for the first time at local favorite Il Bambino, I was quickly in the kitchen making my own, then enjoying it with excellent grilled leeks.
While I still tend to put most of my time into grilling, this recipe switches it up a bit by putting more effort into the sauce than leeks. It's all justified though—romesco is one excellent spread.
It started with roasting bread, garlic, almonds, and a tomato in the oven, while the red peppers were charred on the stove top. At the same the items in the oven were done, the cooled pepper were ready to peel, and everything got thrown into the food processor along with olive oil, sherry vinegar, smoked paprika, salt, and cayenne and given a whirl. Then it was off to the fridge for the sauce to cool and to let the flavors meld.
While the sauce was cooling, it was time to get grilling. Leeks are one of those challenging foods on the grill—they either are going to need a very long roast to become tender, or need some precooking to have them done quickly. In the past I went with the former option and sped up the cooking by foiling the leeks, but I've been more into precooking items like this lately because it tends to be quick and easy and also keeps the veggies hogging the grill from its true intended purpose—meat.
Leeks are notoriously dirty vegetables, so preparation is paramount. First step was to chop off the dark green ends, followed by splitting each leek lengthwise, keeping the white root end in tact. This allowed for easy washing, which is best done under running water, fanning out the layers to ensure the water flushes out all dirt and grit nestled inside.
While it can take a good 30 minutes or more to fully soften leeks by roasting them on the grill, a precook in salted boiling water for just a few minutes completely elements that step. I precooked these until they were half way done—when they just started to soften—then plunged them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.
Finally, it's grill time, but first the leeks got a nice brush of extra virgin olive oil so they would cook up nicely.
All that was needed to finish them up was to grill them until browned on both sides, which only took a few minutes per side. By then, they were soft throughout and ready for eating.
The leeks and romesco were a great couple. The sauce was rich and creamy, with a flavor my wife likened most closely to pimento cheese—a quick way to a Texan heart. That heavy roasted red pepper flavor paired incredibly well with the oniony leeks, which also added a nice crunch to the overall texture. The only problem was I had only grilled up two leeks, which was not nearly enough to satisfy the need to eat more romesco, but that was easily solved by grilling some slices of bread to keep on eating.
Grilled Leeks with Romesco Sauce
- Yield Serves 4
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 3 Hours
- Cook 30 Minutes
- Total 3 Hours 45 Minutes
- For the Romesco Sauce
- 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
- 4 large leeks, dark greens tops removed, split in half, and throughly washed
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- To make the romesco sauce: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Place almond, garlic, bread and tomato on baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast almonds until fragrant and bread is crusty and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove almonds and bread and continue roasting garlic until soft and tomato until tender, about 20 minutes more. Remove from oven, let cool slightly and remove skin from tomato and peel garlic.
- While other ingredients are roasting in the oven, roast peppers over an open flame on a gas stove or grill until the skins are blackened. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds, and cores.
- Place bread, tomato, almonds, peppers, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and cayenne pepper as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and let sit in refrigerator until cool.
- For the leeks: Prepare a large bowl of iced water, set aside. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan; add in 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Place leeks in boiling water and cook until they start to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer leeks to bowl of ice water and let sit until completely cooled, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush leeks lightly with oil and grill over direct heat until they start to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip over and continue to grill until second side browns, an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately with romesco sauce.
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Mike Love this! I'm with you, leeks are one of my favorite "off the beaten track" vegetables to grill...and the Romesco sauce looks great!
Max Wainer Sounds like you don't really roast the pepper - more like just charring the skin and then grinding up the pepper in the food processor.
What so you do if you don't have a gas stove (I have a glass-topped electric)? How do you deal with the peppers? I've seen recipes that have you roast the pepper in the oven, would that work, or is the point to have the pepper only partially cooked?
Josh @Max Wainer Roasting in the oven would be fine, even better if you have grill and roast it over the flames. The point is to have roasted peppers, so you can even use jarred roasted peppers if you want to skip that step altogether.
Chris My favorite way to eat Romanesco sauce is simply with pieces of grilled pita bread.
Chris Romesco sauce, bleeping spell check
Boomdog02 These are called Calcots in Spain...they are usually wrapped in newspapers after they come off the grill to steam a bit. Then they are unwrapped, the charred outer layer is peeled off, then it's dipped into the Romesco and eaten...in mass quantities with lots of wine!!!