Savoring Calçots at a Calçoltada
[Calçots Grilled On An Open-Flamed Hearth]
Twas a lot of fun partaking of this Catalan ritual of downing calçots (pronunced cahl-SOATS) dipped in romesco sauce and thin streams of cava from a porrón out in the open on a Sunday afternoon. Calçots are the homegrown sweet green onions that are cultivated in the northeastern part of Spain--the land of Catalunya, whose capital city is Barcelona. The seasonal vegetable has been described as a cross between a leek and a spring onion, and is esteemed an exquisite dainty. The fiesta when family and friends gather outdoors (or in the restaurant) with calçots as the central theme is called La Calçoltada.
I was invited by a friend to join her classmates at one of these calçots festivals in the outskirts of Barcelona. The place is within the compounds of a cava-maker 40 min train-ride away from Barcelona. Space is offered without cost but cavas by the dozen are obligedly purchased to consume. When we arrived at noon, many catalan families and groups have already been grilling their calçots and butifara (catalan sausages) away on the open grills fueled by wood (not coals, which would make the morsels taste even better.) Accompanied with cava (the catalan sparkling wine), or red wine, it was a big outdoor affair, reminiscent of the Memorial Day picnics we used to have when we celebrated the end of long winters in South Haven, Michigan. The weather that day was especially sunny. And as we gathered at the picnic table, warming sunrays kissed our faces and gave us an early hint of the verdure of springtime.
The region of Tarragona south of Barcelona usually sees the harvest of the first calçots in February. Then the peak season will last only for about three weeks. Grocers sell them in bunches of 50s. These sweet vegetables are grilled on an open-fire heath until the outermost layer is charred and a white smoke rises and then transferred to sheets of newspaper to preserve the heat. To devour them the traditional way, you have to peel off the blackened jackets to reveal the flavorful white bulbs, dip it in romesco sauce (made of ñora pepper, almonds, and hazelnuts), tilt your head back, and aim the leek-like onions at your wide-opened mouth. Most people down a dozen calçots in one sitting but it could easily be more. A note of caution: forget about being dainty at a calçoltada because it's a messy affair involving sooty fingers and if you’re not careful, a blackened nosetip.
[Tasting Cava the Catalan Way]
Resources: More on Catalan Cuisine http://www.fell-walker.co.uk/catalan.htm
Recipe: [ Salsa Romesco ]
6 ripened tomatoes (tops sliced off)
1 entire head of garlic
12 raw almonds
1 tiny slice of baguette or pan tostado
1 ñora pepper
balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil
Place tomatoes, the head of garlic (as it is), the slice of toast in the oven, and roast for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes and garlic are soft and the bread hardened. Remove from oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, process or pound nuts until they are completed grounded. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar to the slice of toast and add it to the nuts. Keep pounding or run the machine. Then, add the dried pepper, and the peeled cloves of garlic, and lastly the peeled tomatoes. During the process, add olive oil until you get a smooth paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: the sauce is great for anything off the grill, in my opinion. It makes a great vege dip too.