This rich, almondy dessert is typical of the Reus area of Tarragona in the Costa Daurada. Menjar blanc has a long history, documented as it is in the Llibre de Sent Soví, the oldest Catalan cookbook that has been found in the Iberian Peninsula, dating from 1324. Due to the age of the book, it has been suggested that menjar blanc was originally an Arab dish, brought to Europe as a result of the Crusades.
While it is now eaten at the end of the meal, in the Middle Ages (when it was written as menjar blanch) the dish was served as a main course, included chicken and rice, and was recommended for people with upset stomachs. It was traditionally eaten on Holy Thursday of Easter week—original recipes didn’t include milk, making it appropriate for eating during times of fasting when milk wasn’t allowed—but now it’s popular year-round.
Similar desserts exist in other parts of Europe: in Turkey it’s called mullahebi and in Italy panna cotta. And in the UK, it’s blancmange, with a name that means, like the Catalan, ‘white food’. Despite this, the British version is also often served pink!
Ingredients (for four people)
- 1 litre water
- 200g chopped raw almonds
- Stick of cinnamon
- Peel of a whole lemon
- 200g sugar
- Cup of milk
- 75g corn starch
- Ground cinnamon
Heat the water in a saucepan and when it comes to the boil put in the chopped almonds, the cinnamon and lemon peel. Take off the heat, cover the pan and leave it to infuse while the water cools. Strain the contents of the saucepan, squeezing it hard to make sure all the water gets out and then put the leftover mixture to boil with the sugar. Next, dissolve the corn starch in the cup of milk then add the dissolved starch to the pan and turn the heat down low. Stir everything together until it has the consistency of cream—it should take between six and seven minutes, depending on what heat source you are using. Pour the mixture into bowls and when it has totally cooled, sprinkle with ground cinnamon and serve.
Taken from 'La bona cuina catalana' by Ada Parellada (Ara Llibres)