It’s the season for soups, stews and everything oven-based. I’m roasting my pumpkins and root veggies by the dozen and I love the prospect of turning them into warming comfort food for the colder weeks to come. I like to add flavour and interest to my winter cooking by using a wide range of sauces and by sprinkling over different combinations of fresh herbs, citrus zest and nutty crumbs. Those roasted pumpkins taste even better when combined with grains and smoky romesco sauce. That mushroom risotto gets even creamier when offset by chopped herbs and toasted pecan crumbs. And there’s another nutty flavouring blend I’d like to highlight here. It’s almond picada, and it will elevate any dish it is added to to zesty, full-flavoured delight.
Picada catalana is an aromatic blend of nuts, herbs and spices widely used in Catalan cuisine. Dating all the way back to medieval times, it is traditionally ground to a smooth paste and added to soups, stews and sauces at the end of cooking time to thicken and flavour the dish. Recipes vary from chef to chef, also depending on the dish the blend is intended for.
The basis is a combination of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts or a mixture of all), garlic (raw or roasted) and liquid (vinegar, white wine, olive oil, stock or simply the cooking liquid of the final dish). A common addition is ground fried bread, or sometimes a crumbled sweet biscuit instead. And then there’s a range of aromatics to choose from: parsley, carefully toasted saffron threads, cinnamon, and chocolate, to name just a few.
When used as a flavouring paste, picada adds wonderful depth of flavour to any dish it is stirred into. But instead of grinding them to a paste, you can turn these same ingredients into a course, nutty crumble that can be sprinkled over almost anything, from soups to salads, to add textural interest and instant zing and flavour.
Below you’ll find my version of picada. Made with a mixture of toasted almonds and pine nuts, combined with oven-roasted bread crumbs. Turned fresh and zesty with parsley, sherry vinegar and lemon juice and zest, with the warm and soft base flavour of roasted garlic. And with just a spoonful of cacao, to add a deep savoury note. As you’ll see in the picture, I left the mixture course and crumbly, to be sprinkled over a large platter of roasted winter veg. But add a little extra oil and whizz it until completely smooth and you’ll have a jar of instant flavour in your fridge, ready to add that special something to any of your winter cooking this week.
I’d love to hear in what dishes you like to use picada! And if you use my recipe, don’t forget to tag me on instagram, or leave a comment in the comment section below. I’d love to see your creations and hear your thoughts.
Happy winter cooking!
Almond picada with cacao and lemon zest – makes a large bowlful
- 1 thick slice of stale rustic bread or sourdough, crust removed
- 150 g untoasted almonds, skin-on (use blanched almonds if you want to create a very smooth paste)
- 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 100 g pine nuts
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 30 g parsley
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar
- 1 tsp. raw cacao
- sea salt to taste
Heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.
Tear the bread into chunks. Place the pieces of bread onto a lined baking sheet and drizzle them with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil. Add the almonds and the unpeeled cloves of garlic to the baking sheet. Toast the bread, almonds and garlic for 10 minutes, until the bread is golden and sizzling. Take the sheet from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, heat a dry frying pan over a high heat and tip in the pine nuts. Shaking the pan regularly to prevent burning, toast the pine nuts until golden. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
Open the skin of the toasted garlic cloves and scoop out the flesh. Tip the garlic into the mixing bowl of a food processor, along with the bread, almonds, pine nuts, the second spoonful of olive oil, parsley, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, cacao and a pinch of salt.
Whizz the mixture to a course crumble. Taste and adjust the flavour to your preference with a bit of extra salt, vinegar or cacao. You can use the almond picada like this, sprinkled over roasted vegetables or stirred into grains. For a more traditional use, add a little more olive oil, vinegar or water and whizz the picada to a smooth paste. Add this to soups, stews and sauces at the end of the cooking time, to thicken your dish and add heaps of flavour.
Any leftover picada will keep in the fridge for up to a week.