Recipe for Roasted Heart of Palm with Romesco Sauce

“The heart of palm is one of the finest ingredients,” says chef Dominique Oudin. I had never tried the delicate white vegetable – harvested from the inner core of certain varieties of palm trees – in its fresh form until my last visit to Colombia, where the ingredient appears in many dishes. The preparation of Oudin, which he serves on the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara’s tasting menu Restaurant 1621 (an establishment in Cartagena that combines French techniques with local Colombian ingredients), particularly impressed me. The thinly sliced ​​heart of palm was coated in a little cashew and almond cream, served with a dollop of peppery romesco sauce on the side. The fresh, herbaceous flavor of the tender vegetable made it a perfect canvas for hazelnut cream and smoky, spicy romesco.

When Oudin cooks with the tropical plant, “I don’t want to change the taste too much,” he explains. He prefers to let the clean, delicate taste of the ingredient shine through. “It’s something very special because you can’t find it everywhere in the world,” adds Oudin. Much of the world’s heart of palm is grown in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, where the ingredient is part of the culinary traditions of many cultures.

Before going to Colombia, I had only ever tasted the canned or jarred heart of palm versions. The fresh variety has a tastier texture than the processed stuff and a stronger flavor. Once I got home, I knew I wanted to try cooking it myself, starting with a riff on Oudin’s dish. Since unsustainable harvesting practices can be detrimental to palm trees, when purchasing fresh or frozen hearts, it is important to source from a grower who sticks to regenerative techniques (Puna Gardens is a good online source that sells cleaned and ready-to-use cores).

When my order arrived in the mail, I sliced ​​the fresh vegetable into sticks, followed Oudin’s en papillote roasting technique, and replaced his cashew and almond cream with a simple sprinkle of toasted walnuts. And of course, I had to whip up this classic romesco sauce recipe from the FLAVOR archives.

Yield: 2

Duration: 1h30

For the romesco sauce:

  • 2 large red bell peppers (1 lb)
  • 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. Red wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the heart of palm:

  • 1 lb fresh heart of palm, cut into ½ x 4 inch pieces. truncheons
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. toasted and coarsely chopped almonds

Instructions

  1. Prepare the romesco sauce: Preheat the grill and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the peppers and garlic on the parchment lined baking sheet and grill, turning as needed, until the vegetables are blistered all over, 4 to 8 minutes for the garlic and 10 to 15 minutes for peppers. Transfer toasted ingredients to a heatproof bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and steam until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.
    1. Gently rub the peppers to remove their skin, then remove and discard the stems and seeds; peel the garlic cloves. In a blender, add the roasted vegetables, almonds, olive oil, tomato paste, vinegar, chili flakes, paprika, and ½ cup water. Puree until smooth, then scrape the sauce into a bowl, season with salt and black pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (If you make the sauce ahead, the romesco keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.)
  2. To roast the heart of palm: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the hearts with the olive oil and thyme. Season lightly with salt and black pepper; mix to combine. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and carefully arrange the hearts in the center of the sheet. Fold the corners of the foil inward to wrap and seal the hearts in a waterproof pouch. Transfer to the oven and roast until the hearts are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
  4. Cool the hearts of palm slightly before unwrapping them, then transfer them to a platter, sprinkle with crushed almonds and serve warm with the reserved romesco sauce on the side.