It’s January. It’s cold. Sure, the days are getting longer by seconds each day, but they’re still really short.
I don’t know why exactly, but this is the month that seems to go on forever. It’s the hardest one for many, and a month in which bolstering the spirit with warming robust food is important.
Within the first few days of the year, I gave a cooking class to a young couple with children who wanted easy dishes to make for themselves. One of the dishes I chose was a chickpea stew (Chickpeas with Potatoes and Tomatoes; you can find it in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) topped with a romesco sauce.
Leftovers from this dish keep well and can be thinned to a soup-like consistency if desired. I made lunch from this dish several times over the next week, with pleasure.
The challenge was how to make the dish compatible with a season in which there are no fresh tomatoes worth having and no peppers grown closer than Mexico or Holland.
Canned crushed organic tomatoes — your own or commercial ones — are readily available. Jarred peppers in their slightly sharp liquid work well in the romesco sauce, and I think they could have worked in the stew as well. (I acquiesced and used fresh ones in order to demonstrate some cutting techniques.)
In the sauce, I used two heaping tablespoons of tomato paste in lieu of the nasty Roma tomatoes that bear no flavor but which are usually called for. I included some smoked paprika as well, and for the stew, I pressure-cooked dried chickpeas so that I could use the flavorful liquid to thin the dish instead of water. That was about it for bringing these recipes into the season.
The reward? Having 1½ quarts of thick stew of a warming red color, hearty with chickpeas and fingerling potatoes on hand to enjoy over the course of a week — extra-good with a big dollop of romesco sauce.
You can modify the recipe for the stew in the book to suit your needs to be seasonal and local, but here is the new smoky winter romesco sauce which, if you don’t know, is good on absolutely everything. You’ll see.
I almost believe that having a supply of romesco sauce on hand can move January along just a little more quickly.
Yield: 2 cups
1 slice country-style white bread
Olive oil, for frying
¼ cup almonds, roasted
¼ cup hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
2 plump garlic cloves
1½ tsp. ground red chile or pepper flakes
2 heaping Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Sea salt and pepper
1 tsp. smoked or sweet paprika
1 jar roasted red peppers (usually it’s one large one or a little more)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Fry the bread in a little olive oil until golden and crisp. When cool, grind the bread, nuts, and garlic in a food processor until fairly fine. Add everything else but the vinegar and oil, and process until smooth. With the machine running, gradually pour in the vinegar, then the oil. Taste and make sure the sauce has plenty of piquancy and enough salt.