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Calçots

Categories: Product of the week

A guide to cooking and eating these spring onion-like vegetables—the Catalonian way

If you’ve ever been to Catalonia between January and April, you’ve possibly stumbled across a calçotada—that is, a festival dedicated to the harvest of the sweet, green, spring onion-like vegetables known as calçots. Native to the region (those from Valls have PGI protected status), their cultivation requires a process of ‘forcing’—that is, mounding up the earth to keep as much of the vegetable away from direct sunlight as possible, and in effect elongating the edible, white, tender bit.

According to James at Brindisa—where calçot season is in full swing—the Catalans might have a reputation for being quite a serious people, but when it comes to celebrating the arrival of this short-seasoned allium, they get stuck in with gay abandonment.

It’s a tactile affair. The calçots are blackened over wood or charcoal, then wrapped in paper: “Newspaper, traditionally, and it’s quite an important process,” explains James. “They’re left for about 20 minutes to steam and ensure the whole thing is softened. Then comes the really messy bit”—that is, peeling off the outer leaves, charcoal, then, juices n’ all, dunking it in sauce and dangling it into your mouth “like a snake”.

Peppery, tomatoey, nutty
The sauce—either romesco or salbitxada, both of them peppery, tomatoey, nutty numbers—is essential; as is the accompanying red wine. Not just any red wine, though—this is a calçotada. It comes in a ‘porron’, a kind of jug with a long narrow spout, from which it’s drunk directly. “The more you drink, the more you think ‘I’m getting good at this!’ and begin attempting it at arm’s length,” he laughs. “Inevitably something goes wrong. But that’s part of the fun.”

While you might not much fancy braving the elements for a barbie at this time of year, it’s a dish you can celebrate in similar spirit at home with a grill or griddle pan. Brindisa has you covered for the calçots (and some ready-made romesco, should minimal cooking appeal) and regular demo chef Jenny Chandler has provided a rundown on the rest. While the barbecue might not be mandatory, if you want to stand any chance of escaping a serious red wine stain, a porron definitely is.