One of the greatest and delicious cultural events that bridges late winter and early spring is the Calçotada – the gathering to eat calçots. It’s a strictly Catalan tradition where friends and family gather for an all day eating affair for the purpose of devouring as many calçots as possible. They are a variety of onions/scallions but much tender in texture and milder in taste. And unlike its relatives, calçots take center stage on the table.
They are first carefully stacked with the white ends facing the center.
We then cook them directly over an open fire preferably combusted with grape tree branches.
The calçots are charred black then loosely wrapped in newspaper to maintain the heat and to allow the centers to slowly cook. While the calçots keep warm and continue cooking meat is grilled to have as the main entree.
To eat, you put on a bib then gently strip off the burnt outer layer then dip the smokey center into romesco sauce and bite off before arriving to the greens. Serve of course with pa amb tomàquet – bread with tomato and lots of red wine. Romesco is a wonderful Catalan sauce made up of roasted red bell pepper pulp, tomatoes, hazelnuts, almonds and olive oil.
I noticed that calçots received some American interest when Anthony Bordain visited northern Spain in No Reservations. Bordain groupies began desperately searching for calçots, finishing the inquiries with exaggerated numbers of exclamation points and questions marks. Truth is, I don’t think you could ever replicate a Calçotada elsewhere outside the glorious region of Catalunya. It’s not just about the food itself. It’s the process of friends coming together and repeating a yearly tradition. It marks the worse of winter and gives you a glimpse of spring. It’s about going home with your clothes permeated with smoke, your belly full and heart warm.