The shops are filled with the most beautiful range of autumn produce. 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. That means a lot of soups, stews and curries with roasted vegetables in a supporting role. But with the holidays on their way, nothing is as festive as a large platter of bold-coloured roasted winter vegetables taking centre stage in all their unhidden glory.
When they come straight from the oven, sizzling and caramelized, these roasted vegetables don’t need much more to make them shine. I do like to add an extra pop of colour, texture and flavour, though, by sprinkling over some citrus zest, chopped fresh herbs and nutty crumbs. And there is one particular blend of just that that I urge you to try. It’s crumbly almond picada, and it will elevate your veggies 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 or stock). A common addition is ground fried bread. 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.
Sprinkled over these roasted veggies you see 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 zest and juice, with the warm and soft base flavour of roasted garlic. And with just a spoonful of cacao, to add a deep savoury note.
This mixture can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for up to a week. It’s quick to make, though, and for freshest results, you can easily prepare it while the vegetables are in the oven.
For this roasted vegetable platter I used a combination of multi-coloured heirloom carrots, mini-pumpkins, cauliflower and different varieties of heirloom beetroots. The picada mixture is delicious over almost all roasted winter vegetables, though, so feel free to mix up your choice of vegetables and use what you have at hand, for an easy week night meal as well as a festive dinner.
Roasted vegetables with crumbly almond picada – serves 4-6
- 600 g medium heirloom carrots, scrubbed clean
- 400 g beetroots, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into wedges *)
- 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1 small butternut squash, or 6 mini pumpkins
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 bay leaves
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 batch of coursely ground almond picada **)
- small bunch of parsley
*) I used a mixture of white beets and chioggia beets, but yellow or red beets are equally delicious and add a festive pop of colour
**) The almond picada is a mixture of fresh and oven-roasted ingredients. I listed it with the ingredients as a prepared-ahead blend. If you want to prepare it along with the vegetables instead, I’d advise to use the oven to roast the picada ingredients first, which will only take 10 minutes. You can then finish the picada while the vegetables are in the oven.
Heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.
If you’d like to prepare the picada along with the vegetables, start by toasting the almonds, bread and garlic cloves according to this recipe. Then remove them from the oven and leave to cool while you prepare the vegetables.
Halve any of the larger carrots lengthwise. Trim the top and bottom ends off the squash or mini pumpkins. Either halve the squash, remove the seeds, then cut it into 1 cm-thick half-moon slices, or cut the mini pumpkins into 1 cm-thick rings. No need to peel the squash or pumpkins; the skin will soften along with the flesh while roasting.
Divide the prepared vegetables over two lined baking sheets. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to make sure the vegetables are well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Break the bay leaves into smaller pieces and stick them between the vegetables.
Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes, until golden, caramelized and just cooked. Halfway during cooking time, switch the position of the baking sheets to make sure the vegetables cook evenly.
If needed, finish the picada while the vegetables are in the oven.
To serve, divide the roasted vegetables over a large platter. Remove the bay leaves, then sprinkle over a few spoonfuls of the picada. Scatter with parsley, then serve, with the remaining picada in a bowl alongside for people to help themselves.
Any leftover picada will keep in the fridge for up to a week.