14 October 2011

Gypsy Kitchens: Andorra Pintxos

We've often wondered what the difference between a pintxo and a tapa is. Well, the answer is right in the name. Pintxos or pinchos are served "spiked" by a toothpick, most often onto a piece of bread. Sometimes, its a breadless skewer of anchovies and olives or something of the sort. Either way, the spear is essential as the name (pincho) literally translates to "spike." So, the ones we made are not technically pinchos - but they are 100% Andorran.
It all started with this can of Fir Nectar. Displays for the item were set up in every grocery, most often on the butcher counter for no other reason than it being the most popular place in the shop. We've never seen this before and - it turns out - neither has anyone else! An Andorran entrepreneur has made 10,000 cans of Nectum D'Avet this year and plans to expand to international markets. It will continue to be produced in Andorra, but he's already gotten permission to collect pine and spruce cones in parts of France. The cones are bathed in a pool of sugar for a year and the "nectar" is then extracted. Pretty interesting.
The problem was, we didn't know what the heck to do with it aside from pour some on our cereal in the morning. The super sweet, piney flavor didn't quite work in our coffee as well as syrup or honey. Then, the answer hit us. It hit our tent, actually. You see, we pitched right under a walnut tree. An old man made the rounds each morning with a plastic bag and a walking stick, picking up nut after nut until there were none left. When he saw us looking at him curiously, he smacked one over in our direction with his cane and mumbled something about that being a good one and the furry ones being bad. One morning, we got up early and collected as many as we wanted from the night's bounty.The idea from there on was pretty simple: slice some bread up, spread cheese on it, sprinkle some walnuts and drizzle on nectar. Blue cheese was our first choice, but since we wanted to keep things 100% Andorran and the local blue cheese at the market was unappealing, we wound up getting half a wheel of Formatge Mont Valira. Our pick was based solely on the fact that our campsite is also named Valira. Its Babybel reminiscent flavor wasn't exactly what we were looking for, so we caved in and bought some Spanish Pyrenees blue, too.
The Mont Valira wound up coming in handy - as some pesky campsite cats ate about half our Queso Azul while we worked away at cracking the walnuts. If you look closely, you can see some markings from our smashing instrument - a blue Klean Kanteen. The walnuts were smaller than average and wonderfully oily. If you happen to find yourself without a nutcracker, one hard smack at the center seam will almost always break the nut evenly in half. Lay the halves face down for one more short, hard hit each and you'll be able to remove some nice, sizable sections.
Pile it all up and that's it! This is the sort of recipe that doesn't really need too much explaining. It couldn't be easier and makes an excellent hors d'oeuvre, dessert or party snack - one that you can assemble in bulk and let sit out without detriment. We'd recommend toasting the bread and using honey, at least until Nectum D'Avet takes the world by storm. Also, go ahead and add that toothpick.

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