One thing we love about summer cooking: it’s easy to throw something on the grill and call it dinner.
But with just a little more effort, you can take any dinner to the next level. We’re talking summer sauces: romesco, pesto and compound butter, from Spain, Italy and France, respectively. Drizzle, spoon or melt them over practically anything coming off the grill, from steak to chops or potatoes and vegetables, and you’ll never go back to just salt-and-pepper again.
Any of these sauces will taste terrific over grilled steaks, pork or chicken, on top of grilled or roasted vegetables, over pasta or spread on grilled bread. The pesto and the romesco would also be terrific tossed with a green or potato salad or in place of pizza sauce.
Here are three super-simple recipes, and plenty of ideas on how to make them your own.
To see the individual recipes, click here:
Originally from Catalonia, in Spain, it’s made from red peppers and almonds, and traditionally served over seafood. It’s sweet, spicy and smoky — and terrific.
Why to love it: “Romesco sauce is the epitome of contrasting flavors and textures,” says Jodi Bernhart, executive chef at Fortina in Armonk, where she makes it with hazelnuts, and serves it over roasted cauliflower. “The creaminess of blending red peppers and contrasting with the crunch of nut in there, a nice little transition from the sherry vinegar and the pungency of the garlic, it’s just this great burst of flavors.”
Make it your own: Use hazelnuts or walnuts instead of almonds. Experiment with different peppers, like Fresno, pimento or even ancho.
This recipe, from Fortina chef Jodi Bernhard, replaces almonds with hazelnuts, and adds Fresno peppers along with the roasted red peppers.
- 1 cup garlic cloves
- 1 cup olive oil
- 6 red peppers, roasted and peeled
- 2 Fresno peppers, roasted and peeled
- 1/2 loaf of peasant-style Italian bread
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- First, make garlic confit: combine garlic and oil in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. The garlic should be tender but not brown. Measure 1/2 cup for this recipe. (Store extra garlic cloves in oil in the refrigerator for up to 1 month; they are great spread on toast or used as a flavoring for roast chicken. Bring to room temperature before using.)
- To roast the red and Fresno peppers, broil them until the skins are blackened. Slip the skins off and seed and roughly chop the peppers.
- Prepare the bread, cut the loaf into 3-inch pieces, cut off the crust, brush it with olive oil, then grill or broil until the tops are brown and toasty.
- To toast the hazelnuts, heat them in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes until they just begin to release their aroma and become light brown.
- Place garlic confit, red and Fresno peppers, bread, hazelnuts, smoked paprika and sherry vinegar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse to combine. Turn on the food processor and slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pesto’s name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means to pound or crush, and the sauce can be made with a mortar and pestle. Hailing from Genoa, in Italy, its traditional ingredient is basil, which is mixed with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Why to love it: It’s bright and peppy and the green color brightens up every dish. And it’s so versatile. Margery Schiffman of Conant Valley Jams makes a pesto without nuts for people who have allergies. They’re available at the Pleasantville Farmers Market, and “they sell like crazy,” says her husband, Chuck Dorris.
Make it your own: Basil is the go-to herb, but substitute it anything from cilantro to ramps to arugula to spinach. Try different nuts too, like walnuts, almonds and even sunflower seeds.
A winner of a recipe from “The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm” (Clarkson Potter) by Sam Beall. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
- 1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
- 1 clove of garlic, coarsely chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 4 cups loosely packed baby arugula, stems removed
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely shredded local hard, sheep’s milk cheese (or similar) or pecorino
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, place the sunflower seeds and garlic and pulse to finely chop the seeds. Add the lemon zest and juice and pulse to combine. Add the parsley and half the arugula and pulse to combine.
- With the machine running, add half of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the rest of the arugula and pulse to combine. With the machine running, add the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and process until smooth.
Just try to find an easier “sauce” to make. Compound butters, known as beurres composés in French, are made by softening butter, adding herbs, spices or other flavors, and then re-shaping the butter and chilling it.
Why to love it: The possibilities are endless. Rosemary and thyme compound butter to top grilled steaks; walnut and lemon butter to melt over zucchini or green beans; maple butter to go over pork chops. You’re limited only by your imagination.
Make it your own: Berry season is upon us. Try sweet butters for breakfast! Strawberry, blueberry or raspberry butter would be killer over pancakes, waffles or scones.
This recipe is for an herb butter. Other suggestions: shallots, spices, lemon or lime zest, chilis — or that garlic confit you made for the Romesco sauce!
- Compound Butter
- 1 stick (1/4 pound) butter
- 1 finely chopped tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1 finely chopped tablespoon fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Let the butter soften at room temperature. Use a spatula to completely blend butter, thyme and rosemary.
- Either place butter in a ramekin, or roll tightly into a cylinder in parchment paper or plastic wrap. Chill the butter in the refrigerator until hard. If you made a cylinder, you can slice the butter into coins and serve on a platter.