Asparagus sings with a red pepper, almond and tomato sauce

  • Try making grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce at home using the recipe from Elizabeth Karmel in today’s article. AP Photo

Associated Press
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

It’s time to revisit grilled vegetables! I was recently tagged in a post where the author said that she was taught to grill vegetables dry and then season them when they come off the grill.

I don’t know what she was grilling and she seemed very happy with that method, but it made me think about all the people who were now going to try to grill their summer vegetables without oiling them first. And anyone who has read one of my books or articles, or grilled with me knows, my mantra is “Oil the food, not the grates.”

It makes sense that you would oil the vegetables to keep all the juices inside and prevent them from drying out. After all, dried fruit and vegetables are made by slowly dehydrating (the juices out of) them. A little bit of oil creates a barrier that prevents the natural juices from evaporating as the vegetables cook and the oil promotes caramelization. This is important because grill marks equal flavor, and a juicy vegetable is much tastier than a dried-out one.

Grilled vegetables are good all on their own, but they are even better with a great Romesco sauce to drizzle over them or dip them into. Romesco sauce is a red pepper, almond and tomato sauce that hails from the Catalonia part of Spain where it was originally served with seafood and charred onions. Romesco is gaining popularity in the states and I have seen it served with just about everything. It is my favorite summer condiment and I use it to dress up grilled shrimp, fish, poultry, meat and all manner of vegetables. My version calls for fire roasted tomatoes and one large roasted red pepper, so it is more tomatoe-y than pepper-y, which is my preference. If you prefer the taste of red peppers to tomatoes, switch the ratios and use half the amount of tomato that I call for and double the red peppers. I don’t use the bread, which is in the classic recipe to thicken the sauce because I don’t want to muddle the pure vegetable and roasted garlic flavor, and I like a looser texture.

Grilled asparagus and Romesco is my favorite combination. And, this time of year, asparagus abounds. So, the recipe that I am featuring is for grilled asparagus with fire roasted Romesco sauce, but you can use the same basic principle for any quick-cooking vegetable. Just remember to place the vegetables horizontally across the cooking grates so you get maximum grill marks and they won’t fall through the grates. If you place them parallel to the grates, it will be easy for them to slip through, and that would be a pity!

Grilled Asparagus with Fire Roasted Romesco Sauce

Grilled asparagus is my favorite, but don’t stop there. Charred whole scallions, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms are all better for a bit of Romesco sauce. It’s all good. Throw in some grilled bread and it’s great!


1 lb. fresh asparagus (Look for large stalks with firm deep green or purplish tips and moist ends)

Olive oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

Romesco Sauce (recipe below)

Rinse asparagus and snap or cut off bottoms. Place asparagus in a re-sealable plastic bag and drizzle just enough oil in the bag to coat all the spears. Seal bag and turn spears to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt, reseal bag and turn again to evenly distribute the salt.

Place asparagus on the cooking grate over direct heat for three to five minutes or until marked and caramelized. Turn spears occasionally to grill each side. Asparagus should begin to brown in spots (this indicates that the natural sugars are caramelizing) but should not char.

Remove from grill and serve immediately with Romesco sauce. Makes four servings.

Fire Roasted Romesco Sauce


2 lb. ripe plum tomatoes or 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes

1 roasted red pepper

1 head garlic, roasted

3 T red-wine vinegar, more if needed

½ cup blanched or Marcona almonds

1 T freshly ground ancho chili

1 T smoked Spanish paprika

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

1 to 2 T kosher salt or sea salt; more to taste

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry tomatoes. Cut out the core and drizzle the center of each tomato with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a disposable aluminum tray and place in the center of the cooking grate. Grill-roast for 30 to 45 minutes or until tomatoes are caramelized and soft. (Note, this is also a good time to roast the pepper and the garlic. The pepper will take about 15 minutes and the garlic will take about 45 minutes.) Remove from grill and let cool in the pan, making sure to keep any of the juices that escaped.

Peel and seed peppers and remove garlic from skin and set aside. Using a food processor or a blender, place tomatoes, their juice, roasted pepper and roasted garlic together and puree. Add vinegar and almonds and puree until smooth and uniformly chunky. Add ancho chili and smoked paprika, and pulse to combine. Slowly add olive oil until you like the consistency of the sauce. Add salt and pepper, and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary with salt and pepper.

Use immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to one week. (I store the sauce in glass mason jars — this recipe fills two pint jars, you can keep one and give one away!) Makes about four cups.

Roasted Red Pepper

Rinse and dry pepper. Grill over high direct heat, turning until skin blackens and blisters all over. Remove from grill and immediately put in a paper bag or sealed plastic container until cool. Note: the steam will loosen the skin from the flesh of the pepper. Skin and seed the pepper (the skin will slip off easily). Use as directed in recipe.

Roasted Garlic


1 head garlic

2 T olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt

Remove first layer of papery skin from garlic. Slice off top ½-inch from pointy top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and cook on grill over medium-high indirect heat for 40 minutes, or until cloves are golden-brown and soft. Alternatively, place in a 350 degree oven. Remove from grill or oven and let cool. Follow recipe instructions.

Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”