Spanish cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Moors, who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco in 711, conquering most of the country in seven or eight years. It is believed that the Moors were Arabs and Muslims. Along with their culinary traditions, they brought knowledge of architecture, science, and engineering. Their influence on farming and cooking was extensive. They introduced saffron, sugar-cane, cotton, rice, figs, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, bananas, peaches, apricots, eggplant, artichokes, cumin, coriander, and almonds. They were excellent water engineers, devising ways to bring water from the mountains to the valleys by means of trenches and channels which you can still see today at the Alhambra in Granada. They created terraces which made farming possible on steep hillsides. They were conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 and forced to leave Spain. A few were asked to stay to run the water systems. To this day, their extraordinary culinary and architectural treasures remain.
The following Spanish menu consists of shrimp with an almond, pepper and tomato sauce called Romesco which in our house rivals pesto in popularity. This sauce is as good on the potato tostones as it is on the shrimp. A green salad with a citrus vinaigrette would be great along side.
The Spanish Table’s sherry selection in Berkeley, Santa Fe, Seattle and Mill Valley. They also carry the various peppers you need for making the Romesco Sauce.
Shrimp with Romesco Sauce
This sauce takes a while to make. I have tried simpler versions and the flavor is, well, much less interesting. This one is worth the effort.
1 large ripe tomato or 3 Romas, cut in half
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Novas Secas dried pepper
1 Choricero dried pepper or 1 Ancho dried pepper
Note: Other dried peppers can be used, like mild New Mexico, but they shouldn’t be especially hot.
½ cup water
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 thin slice of crusty bread
¼ cup slivered blanched almonds
½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon smoky sweet paprika or regular paprika
1. Roast the tomato and garlic on an ungreased roasting pan at 350ºF for 30 minutes.
2. Place the dried peppers in a saucepan with the water and 3 tablespoons of the vinegar. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the peppers and save the water.
3. Place the roasted tomatoes and the softened peppers in a food processor and process until smooth. Put the contents through a sieve to remove the skin and seeds. Stir and press with a rubber spatula to extract as much of the goodness as possible. Return the strained mixture to the food processor.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet and fry the bread until golden on both sides. In the same oil, fry the almonds until golden.
5. Add the bread, almonds and roasted garlic to the processor. Process until smooth.
6. With the motor running, pour in the ¼ cup oil, the remaining teaspoon of vinegar, the smoky paprika or regular paprika, and the salt and pepper. You can add some of the pepper soaking liquid if the sauce is too thick. The sauce should be the consistency of guacamole.
7. Place in a bowl and serve at room temperature.
1½ pounds shrimp in their shells
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1. Heat the oil, add the salt and shrimp, and stir fry until pink, or just done.
2. Serve hot or at room temperature with the Romesco Sauce. Serve with paper towels. Peeling the shrimp is a messy and delightful business.
Note: The sauce can be made a day in advance. The shrimp can be made a couple of hours before if you want to serve at room temperature. I usually serve them directly from the pan while still hot.
4 servings for dinner, more as tapas
Adapted from Penelope Casas’ Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain