Almond rolls with ricotta, smoked paprika and honey

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
  • Sugar
  • 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.


Whiskey Prawns

Bordeaux and the whiskey prawns

There are those places in the world where you just feel at home. For me, France is one of them. I like the food, the landscapes, the architecture, the language, and yes, also the people. So when I got the chance to study in Paris, I immediately took it and moved there. While I lived there I went several times to one of my other favourite French cities: Bordeaux. The location of this city is amazing. It is surrounded by rolling hills planted with neat long rows of grapevines. As an extra plus, it is close to the coast. But not only is the city located in a beautiful area, it is also a place with a very positive and romantic vibe. The buildings are unmistakably French, very elegant. The center is relatively small but full of life. And the delicious wines from the area are clearly present. Of course, Bordeaux has the world´s biggest wine fair and the wine is very important for the local economy, but more importantly there are plenty of places in the city where you can try everything the region has to offer. We went into one special wine bar where you could taste small glasses of some of the most prestigious wines. I have to admit, they were certainly special and incredibly tasty.

But, wine is not the only delicious thing you can find in Bordeaux. Food is very important as well. Along the river Garonne that flows through the city there is a large market. Although you can buy a lot of good produce there, the seafood is something I really remember. There were many people sitting along the river enjoying fresh oysters and a glass of white wine. But one day we saw something we were even more interested in. There was a small stand on the market in the shape of a red motor boat. Behind the boat was an older couple. This boat was not used to go on to the water anymore, instead there was a large metal plate on which the man was grilling prawns. The couple didn’t just serve the prawns plain, which would already have been delicious, but flamed them with whiskey. Then the lady wrapped them in a paper cone. Sitting in the sun, close to the Garonne, we slowly peeled and enjoyed those flamed prawns. A great and relaxed experience and a magical memory.

This recipe for a prawn soup (or bisque, whichever name you prefer) with flamed whiskey prawns and deep-fried leek is inspired by that memory. Because the flavours are quite deep, you could have a light red wine with it.

Whiskey prawns

Ingredients (for 2 as lunch or starter)

  • Prawns – raw and unpeeled, 500 grams
  • Whiskey or brandy – 1 glass
  • 1 leek
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • Garlic – 2 large cloves
  • 1 chilli pepper – red or green
  • Fresh thyme – a good bunch
  • Anise seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Peppercorns – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil for deep-frying
  • Optional: cream

First of all, peel the prawns and just keep the tip of the tail on the meat. Also devein the prawns by making an incision in the back of each prawn and just pulling it out. It is a bit of work, but certainly worth the effort. Keep the prawn meat on one plate and the heads and shells on another.

When all the prawns are peeled, prepare the vegetables for the soup. Chop up the leek, but leave the two outer leaves whole. You will need them later for the deep-fried leek. Roughly chop the shallots, the celery, and the tomato. Trim the tops and ends off the lemon grass and chop it in pieces of around 2 centimeters long. Smash the lemon grass with the back of your knife, so that the fragrances can come out. For the same reason, also smash one of the cloves of garlic with your knife.

Now place a large pot with some olive oil over a medium fire. First add the shallot and leek and sauté them until they start to get some colour. Then add the celery, garlic, and peppercorns to the pot and leave for a few minutes before you add the prawn heads and shells. When the prawn shells become a pretty bright pink, add the tomato, half of the bunch of thyme, the anise seeds, the lemongrass, and a pinch of salt. Fry this for another two minutes and then pour in half of the glass of whiskey. Turn the fire up to high to make sure the alcohol evaporates. And don´t hang over the pot at this moment, it always makes me feel a bit drunk! Add 0.8 liter of water and bring this to a boil. When it has boiled for a few minutes, skim the foam that comes to the top and turn down the fire. Leave it to simmer for around 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, start prepping the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the other clove of garlic and the chilli. Take the leaves off the other half of the bunch of thyme. Roll the outer leaves of the leek that you kept tightly in the way it naturally rolls. With a sharp knife, cut it in really thin ribbons. Place those slices in a bowl of ice-water.

Once the 40 minutes have passed use a stick blender to blend the soup. Next, pass the soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot. If you don´t have a stick blender, it is not a problem. You can skip this step, but it just makes it a bit more creamy and even more flavoursome when you have the chance to blend it. Make sure to press the prawn shells and vegetable mixture with a spoon to get as much flavour out as possible. Place the soup over a low heat and season it to taste. If you want to, add some cream to make the soup richer and creamier.

In a small pot, heat up a good layer of sunflower oil until it is around 180˚C and you see it starts bubbling. Take the slices of leek out of the ice-water and dry them well. Deep-fry them in the sunflower oil for a bit less than a minute, until they start to be golden brown and crisp. Place them on some kitchen paper and season them with salt.

Now finally, it is time to prepare the prawns. Place a frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped garlic and chilli. When those are fragrant, add the thyme and the prawns and fry them until the prawns are beautiful and pink on all sides. Add a good pinch of salt. Finally, take the pan off the heat. When you use an extractor fan, switch it off, just to be sure. Add the other half of the glass of whiskey to the pan. Tilt the pan over and light the whiskey. Keep turning the pan until all alcohol has burned and the flames are off.

Then, it is plating time. Divide the soup over two deep plates and top with the prawns and the fried leek. Enjoy!