Last year, my husband and I decided to move to Philadelphia so our kids could be closer to their cousins. We moved in with my sister for a trial period to see how we liked the area; 14 months later, we’re still here, living in an impromptu communal household.
In this extended family, we eat a lot of meat. But we don’t always agree on how to serve it. My husband likes to top his steak with a hearty mushroom sauce, while my brother-in-law prefers his naked. And if my sister had her druthers — thankfully for our waistlines, she doesn’t — she’d drown her steak in blue-cheese butter every night.
To appease all parties, I’ve started offering intensely flavored sauces, like the Spanish romesco, Italian salsa verde, and French tapenade. They add a boost of flavor to steak without overshadowing it, which makes everyone in the house happy.
What these three sauces have in common is intense flavor and incredible versatility. They all come together quickly and easily in a food processor, and are great to whip up on a moment’s notice for a flavorful addition to beef, lamb, chicken, or fish. They’re perfect because they add zest without being overpowering. And just a little bit goes a long way.
Romesco, a classic Spanish sauce from Catalonia, is a combination of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, almonds, garlic, bread, vinegar, and olive oil. Toasting the almonds first brings out their flavor, and I like to toast them with the bread — grinding both together first — because it saves time. I love romesco because it’s so versatile; I’ve served it spread on crusty bread, tossed with linguine, over grilled fish, and even on potatoes.
Tapenade, a classic sauce from the south of France, features the big three of salty, briny, earthy ingredients: olives, capers, and anchovies. Those intense flavors are tamed — but only a bit — by sweet basil, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil. You can’t get much easier than this simple sauce: Just throw everything in the food processor, give it a whirl, and you’re done. Tapenade is great with beef and lamb, or spread on bruschetta or homemade pizza.
Salsa verde, a piquant sauce of fresh herbs, anchovies, capers, and lemon juice — not to be confused with Mexican salsa verde, made from tomatillos — is the Italian take on a classic green sauce. Though parsley is typically the main herb used in salsa verde, you can also enhance the flavor with mint, chives, or basil. For instance, if you’re serving salsa verde with lamb, mint would be a nice addition. It also adds great flavor and color to salmon and chicken.
All of these sauces also make great creamy dips; just stir in some mayonnaise and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice; serve with crudités or pita chips. Or, in place of mustard or mayo, try them on sandwiches (romesco is especially good with roasted asaparagus, and olive tapenade is delicious pared with fresh mozzarella and sliced tomatoes). They’ll all keep for a week or so, covered, in the fridge, but none of them freezes well.
Though we most often serve these sauces with meat in our house, it’s fun to see all the different things people do with the leftovers.
My husband uses extra salsa verde to top grilled littleneck clams. I like to thin out some tapenade with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil to make a dressing for greens that I top with grilled chicken. My sister spreads romesco sauce on a whole-wheat tortilla for a turkey-and-spinach wrap.
And my brother-in-law? Well, he just eats them all with leftover steak.
Cookbook author Keri Fisher (One Cake, One Hundred Desserts) has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, and Cook’s Illustrated. She lives outside Philadelphia with her sister, her husband, and her three children, and keeps a blog about living in a communal household.
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