The Poble Sec neighbourhood – inspiration from close to home
Whether I´m walking home after work, going to do my groceries, or go out of the door for another reason, I nearly always pass by the most famous street of my area. This street, Calle Blai, is always buzzing with life. During the annual festival of the neighbourhood you can find the Castelleres here, traditional Catalan human towers defying gravity while they are surpassing the height of the trees. In the evening it´s packed with people listening to live music while drinking beers from plastic cups that are sold in pop-up bars on the street.
But also during the normal days there is a lot going on. In the morning the tables outside are occupied by people enjoying their morning coffee. During the afternoon and evening friends meet up to have a local vermouth or beer, accompanied by pinchos. Those little tapas are originally from the Basque country, but for some reason this street has become famous for them and all restaurants serve pinchos. They are basically pieces of baguette that can be topped with anything, from a simple slice of chorizo or manchego cheese to intricate combinations of flavours and textures. Some restaurants have taken the concept further and use little pancakes or wraps as basis for their creations. In any case, you can always find a large selection standing on the bar. So you just get a plate and pick the ones you like. What they all have in common is that the bites are held together by a little toothpick, the pincho. When you leave, the price is decided by counting the amount of sticks on your plate. It is a great sight, all those plates of food that are standing readily at the bar, waiting for you to select the most beautiful ones and to dive in. All in all, this buzz always makes me feel happy, even when I´m just on the way home from work.
This little dish here is inspired by one of the pinchos they sell in a restaurant in this street. Realizing that my dad cannot eat this, or any other pincho for that matter, since he needs to eat gluten-free, I wanted to adapt it for him. The original version is made with sobrasada, a soft and spreadable sausage from Mallorca. Although I love sobrasada, it is not very common outside of Spain. Therefore I decided to replace it and make the dish vegetarian at the same time by changing the sobrasada for homemade ricotta flavoured with smoked paprika powder.
Almond rolls with homemade ricotta, smoked paprika and honey
Ingredients (for around 6-8 pieces)
- 1 egg white
- Almond flour – 4 tablespoons (you can just ground almonds in a blender if needed
- Butter – 30 grams
- 500 ml of fresh full fat milk
- 160 ml of cream
- 1 lemon
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- Pimentón, smoked paprika powder – 2 teaspoons, preferably a mix of the sweet one and the spicy one
- Honey – 3 tablespoons
- Almonds – a handful
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
As a start, you´ll have to make the ricotta. This is a full milk ricotta, so not a traditional one. The traditional ones are made from the whey of making cheese, but I think this is a bit faster and very tasty. Heat the milk and cream in a small pot over a medium fire until the liquid is almost boiling. Press the juice out of the lemon. Take the milk off the fire and add a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir the liquid a few times and then let it rest for some 10 minutes. You will see the curds forming in the milk. Take a colander and place it over a bowl. Cover the colander with cheesecloth. Or, if like me, you don´t have this, just use a clean tea towel. Pour the milk through the cheesecloth and let this stand for about half an hour to 45 minutes. You will be left with a soft ricotta, that will become firmer when you keep it in the fridge. If you want, you could use the whey that is left in the bowl for other purposes.
Now it is time to create the little almond rolls. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cover a baking tray with baking paper. Beat the egg white with half a tablespoon of sugar until you have soft peaks. Add the almond flour and a good pinch of salt and fold this through carefully. Melt the butter and fold this through as well. Now carefully spread the mixture in rectangles on the baking paper. Use the back of a spoon to make sure your rectangles are nice and thin. Place them in the oven for around 5 minutes, until lightly brown around the edges. Meanwhile, find a rolling pin with thin handles or any other tool that you can use to shape the rolls. Now you have to work very quickly. Take the tray out of the oven and place on the oven door to keep it warm. Carefully lift the rectangles with a spatula and wrap them around the handles of the rolling pin or other tool you use in order to create a little roll. You have to work fast, because they will break when they are cooled down. Let the baking tray cool down and cover with clean baking paper. Repeat the process until all the batter has finished.
To continue the filling, peel the cloves of garlic. Place them in a small pot with a sprig of rosemary and cover with olive oil. Place this over a very low fire and leave it for around 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft and the rosemary crispy. Take the garlic and rosemary out of the oil. You can keep the oil and just use it when making other dishes. Mash the garlic with a fork, crumble the rosemary and combine the two. Mix this with the paprika powder. Then add the ricotta and combine it well. Add some salt, black pepper, and if you like a little lemon juice to taste. It should really have the smokey paprika flavour and a bit of spiciness.
Lastly, make the honey syrup. Roughly chop the almonds and roast them. Finely chop the rosemary you have left and add this to the almonds. When the almonds are golden brown, add the honey, a tablespoon of water, half a tablespoon of lemon juice, and some black pepper. Let this thicken on a low fire. Taste to make sure you don´t need any more honey or lemon.
Then it is time to serve! Fill the rolls with the ricotta using a piping bag or a spoon. Drizzle the honey syrup over the rolls. You can serve it as a lunch or starter with some roasted capsicums or a salad, or just serve the rolls as a part of a tapas meal.