Recipe For Leeks With Romesco Sauce | The Mediterranean Cook

Recipe for leeks with romesco sauce, inspired by a classic Catalan dish, from The Mediterranean Cook.
Leeks with romesco sauce, inspired by a classic Catalan dish, from The Mediterranean Cook.

Melbourne cook and keen traveller, Meni Valle, has produced a string of cookbooks celebrating her Greek-Australian heritage, but The Mediterranean Cook: A Year of Seasonal Eating is probably her most personal yet.

Dedicated to her mother, who grew up in Thessaloniki, the book recounts Meni’s first visit to Greece when she met her extended family for the first time. Her favourite recollection is of meeting her aunt Sophia, from whom she discovered the joys of eating locally produced, seasonal food.

“For thea (aunty) Sophia, growing fresh produce wasn’t just a hobby, it was a way of life,” Meni writes in the introduction to The Mediterranean Cook (published by Smith Street Books, distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, $55.00).

“Once a week, she would go to the market for a little fish or meat, cheese, pulses and grains, and perhaps some bread if she hadn’t been able to bake her own that week, and then pair these simple ingredients with fresh vegetables from her garden.”

The Mediterranean Cook is Meni’s sixth cookbook, following My Greek Kitchen (2011), My Mediterranean Kitchen (2012), Everyday Mediterranean (2015), Mediterranean Lifestyle Cooking (2019) and Ikaria (2020).

Vegetarian recipes

All the recipes in The Mediterranean Cook are vegetarian, making the book perfect for anyone looking to adopt a healthier, plant-focused diet. The recipes are arranged in two sections, Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, to best embody the philosophies of seasonal cooking.

From roasted eggplants and tangy artichokes to perfectly flaky pastry boats and juicy grilled plums and figs, each dish is an invitation to savor the flavours of the Mediterranean. The recipes are complemented with tips and tricks like preparing olives and artichokes, notes on essential ingredients, culinary rituals like grating tomatoes, and lovely photography including some useful step-by-step images.

Meni conducts cooking classes and culinary tours, where she loves collecting recipes like the one reproduced here. No, it’s not Greek, but rather a Catalan recipe for romesco, a classic sauce made from red peppers, almonds, bread and olive oil.

In Catalonia, romesco sauce is typically served with smoky charred calçots: sweet and delicate onions that are somewhere between a spring onion (scallion) and a leek. Dining on calçots with romesco sauce in Catalonia is one of my all-time favourite food memories, which I wrote about in this article many moons ago.

Leeks make a good substitute for the calçots, but the sauce is also delicious with other roasted vegetables, especially eggplant (aubergine), cauliflower and potatoes, as well as eggs and, of course, simply spread on crusty bread.

Buy your copy of  The Mediterranean Cook: A Year of Seasonal Eating from Australian-owned Booktopia.

The Mediterranean Cook by Meni Valle.

Recipe for Leeks with Romesco Sauce

Serves 4

4 leeks, white and pale greens parts only, outer layers removed

Romesco sauce:

4 red peppers (capsicums), or use bottled whole roasted red peppers
100 g (⅔ cup) almonds
60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil
2 slices crusty white bread
½ brown onion, finely diced
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
splash of red wine vinegar, plus extra to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) fan-forced. Wash the leeks well to remove any sand or dirt, then pat dry. Heat a chargrill pan over high heat and place the leeks directly in the pan (cut them in half crossways if they’re very long). Cook the leeks, turning regularly, for 12 to 14 minutes, until charred and beginning to soften – the leeks will release some liquid as they cook. Remove from the heat and place the leeks on a serving platter – they will continue to soften as they rest and cool.

To make the romesco sauce, place the peppers on a baking tray and roast in the oven, turning occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, until blackened all over. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel and remove the seeds. Tear the flesh into strips and set aside. Skip this step if using bottled peppers.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden around the edges. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in the same frying pan over low heat, add the bread and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden on both sides. Remove the bread from the pan and tear into pieces.

Add the onion to the pan and saute over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened, then add the tomato and 125 ml (½ cup) of water and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Using a mortar and pestle or a small blender, crush the garlic with a pinch of salt. Add the toasted almonds and pound or blend until finely crushed. Add the toasted bread, red peppers, paprikas, cooled tomato mixture and red wine vinegar and pound or blend until you have a slightly chunky sauce, adding a little water if the mixture is very thick. Season to taste with more red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and serve the romesco sauce alongside the leeks.

Recipe and image from: The Mediterranean Cook: A Year of Seasonal Eating, by Meni Valle. Published by Smith Street Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.

**Enjoy many more delicious recipes from our Food Wine Travel files here.**

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like our post on Meni’s book, Ikaria, and her recipe for Baked Chickpeas.

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