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Make This: Romesco Sauce

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Spring is here in much of the country and warmer weather means more time outdoors and generally, more socializing. Patio parties and do-dahs on the deck mean having starters and nibbles at the ready to serve friends and family. Nothing’s wrong with chips and salsa, but how about elevating the app game with homemade Romesco Sauce?

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Romesco Sauce is a pureed nut, garlic, and roasted pepper sauce from Northeastern Spain. Think hummus with some “umph.” It can be used as a dip with crackers, pita, vegetables, and oven-fried potatoes or as a sandwich spread. I’ve had good results when making it with homemade roasted peppers as well as best-quality ones in a jar. Smoked paprika is the ingredient that makes a big, bold difference in the flavor, especially if you are using milder jarred peppers instead of freshly roasted.

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Pimenton de la Vera

Pimenton de la Vera is a very special type of smoked paprika and a long-time favorite spice of mine. This very special smoked paprika is governed by a Denominacion de Origen, similar to Appellation d’origine Contrôlée in France or Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata. All three “controlled origins” are strictly governed certifications that ensure the authenticity of the product and that the ingredient adheres to the highest standards of growth, harvest, and production. These designations are most common in wine and apply to other agricultural products, as well.

With Pimenton de la Vera the peppers are slow-roasted over oak fires and hand-turned during the two week process so as not to damage the fruit. Then, they are very slowly ground between stone wheels into a fine powder. The smoked paprika comes in three varieties: sweet and mild (dulce), bittersweet medium hot (agridulce), and hot (picante). Stored well-sealed in a cool dark place, it will keep for up to two years and is available at gourmet markets and online. Luckily, the spice has become so popular that more modest, commercial smoked paprika is now also available and can be found at most grocery stores. (I love smoked paprika and used it extensively in the recipes found in Lighten Up, Y’all. It’s big flavor without the fat.)

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James Beard Award Nomination

Speaking of ….I am thrilled to announce that Lighten Up, Y’all has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award. And, this comes on the heels of the nomination for Best American cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It’s been quite a month! I am so incredibly thankful for these nominations by my peers.

I hope you enjoy this week’s recipe for Romesco Sauce. The combination of the smoked paprika, garlic, nuts, and roasted peppers is absolutely addictive. Just before serving, I pan-fry slivers of garlic on low heat in extra virgin olive oil and pour it over the top to really take it over the top!

Lastly, TODAY — 23 March, I am taking over the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival Instagram account. Please make sure to follow me, too — and thanks for reading!

Bon Appétit Y’all!

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Romesco Sauce

Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup almonds, toasted
1 jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 garlic cloves, plus more for garnish
1 slice country white bread, toasted and crumbled
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/3 cup sherry wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, grind the almonds. Add roasted peppers, tomato puree, garlic, bread, and smoked paprika. Blend until it becomes a paste. Add the vinegar and pulse to blend. With the motor running, gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream until the mixture thickens like mayonnaise. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving container. Just before serving, heat a 1/2 cup or so of oil in a small skillet over very low heat. Add thinly sliced garlic and cook until pale golden brown. Pour the warm oil and toasted garlic over the Romesco sauce. Serve immediately.

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photographs by Virginia Willis

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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