Dreaming of summer

I wandered around the garden yesterday surveying what’s left to eat. We’re doing pretty well on the brassica front, plenty of kale, red cabbage and sprouts. The sprouting broccoli and cauliflowers are soldiering on and the spinach and chard recovered well from the pre-Christmas week long freeze but some of the leeks are looking a bit sad. They obviously didn’t appreciate being frozen solid and some of the green tops have collapsed into slime. I decided to tidy up and dug up the dodgiest looking leeks, then collected the best, which were a real mix of big and small.

The small leeks brought a Catalan dish of calcots and romesco sauce to mind. Calcots are a cross between a green onion and a small leek. Usually they are grilled over coals, charring the skins, which are then peeled back and dunked into romesco sauce which is made with roasted red peppers and toasted nuts. A gloriously messy but very tasty dish.

I tidied up my small leeks and, as I hadn’t a barbeque going, I decided to roast them in the oven. So far so good, but when I tried to take a photo of them on a plate they didn’t look attractive. Fortunately the Romesco sauce, which I had made whilst the leeks roasted , wears many hats and can be used spooned over roasted vegetables and beans, spread on slices of toast, as a pesto for pasta or served with grilled meats, chicken or fish so I changed tack and got a better pic!

There are of course many variations on this recipe and some call for roasted tomatoes but, as it’s perfectly pointless to roast tomatoes in January, I substituted a little tomato puree. 

The nuts can be blanched almonds, toasted hazelnuts or a combo of the two. I used toasted hazelnuts which give a great ‘what am I eating?’ moment and tastes delicious.

If you have leftover sauce, it will store in the fridge for five days and can be used to jizz up anything else you’re eating. It’s great dolloped in soup but my favourite – if you discount spreading on warm toast – is as a pasta sauce. Just reserve a little of the pasta cooking water to mix through the romesco, then toss with the pasta. Serve with a little grated cheese and you have an instant dinner.

Romesco Sauce


• 2 red peppers

• 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

• 100g hazelnuts or blanched almonds

• 1 slice white bread – about 50g toasted weight

• 2tbs tomato puree

• 1 tsp smoked paprika

• 3tbs sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

• 100-150mls olive oil

• half tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200ºc


Put the peppers directly onto the oven shelf and rotate every 5-10 minutes until the skins are lightly charred. Take out of the oven then put into a bowl and cover with a t-towel for 5-10 minutes whilst they cool. The t-towel will make the pepper sweat, which makes the skin easy to remove. When the peppers have cooled peel off the skin and remove the seeds.

At the same time as the peppers are roasting, toast the nuts and the slice of bread. 

Put the nuts onto an oven tray then cook for approx. 5-8 minutes for the almonds or 10-15 for the hazelnuts. The almonds should be lightly golden and the skin of the hazelnuts should loosen and the nuts take on a little colour. 

The bread should take about 10 minutes.

Allow the nuts to cool. If you are using hazelnuts rub them together then pick out the skins and discard.

Remove the crust from the bread and break into pieces.

Put the bread and garlic into the food processor the buzz until fairly fine then add the peeled peppers, vinegar, smoked paprika, tomato puree and salt. Buzz to a smooth paste then add the hazelnuts or almonds. Buzz again but stop as soon as the nuts are coarsely ground. Slowly pour in the olive oil with the processor moving so that it emulsifies.

Check the seasoning and if you’re happy it’s ready to go.

Now that the shop has closed the cooking classes have resumed. The spring classes are nearly fully booked. There are a few places left on the vegan class and the gluten free baking class and there are also a few places free on the Greek cooking holiday. Check our website for details and give me a shout if you are interested. There will be more cooking classes scheduled for the summer so watch this space!

Until then Happy January!


Lettercollum, Timoleague


Karen Austin

Karen Austin is the co-owner of the Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty.

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