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CALCOTS . . . SPANISH CATALAN CALCOTS FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Article researched and written by Orce Serrano Hams

We first sampled the intriguing and absolutely delicious Catalan dish one Semana Santa at our neighbours annual Easter get together. We were fascinated by the whole affair and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, what we didn’t realise was, that we were enjoying a small taste of a gourmet institution which is actually regarded as a luxury and takes around a year to prepare.

Calcots . . . Spanish Catalan Calcots

Originally from Tarragona and enjoyed throughout Catalonia during Spring time, Calçots are a type of scallion and when prepared the green shoot can measure around 25cms and they look like mini leeks. The preparation of the calçots and the famous accompanying salsa romesco is extremely time consuming but the end result is well worth it, indeed the whole eating affair is a fiesta in itself and is social, enjoyable and very messy!

The calçots are roasted slowly on the barbecue known as calçots escalivados until they are black on the outside and soft and tender in the middle. Once cooked, they are removed and wrapped in bunches of about 20 in newspaper and set aside to keep warm. Our neighbours put the newspaper wrapped bundles into a large paper sac and place in front of the fire to keep warm.

The calçots are typically served on large old Spanish roof tiles or tejas with the salsa in individual mini cazuleas. The way to eat the dish is far from luxurious but is huge amounts of fun. You take the roasted calçot and holding onto the tip of the inner green shoot at the top peel away the black outer skin by pulling down with your other hand. Then, immerse the whole thing into your salsa, ensuring a good covering and tip your head back and drop the entire calçot into your mouth – delicious! All this is eaten with your hands and not even plates are bothered with (a piece of bread is just as good!) the discarded outer skins are dumped on the table and the remaining debris wrapped up and thrown away later.

The calçots are served with cava or Catalan Priorat red wine and usually accompanied by lots of bread for mopping and then followed by barbecued lamb or chicken.

There are special fiestas organised known as a calçotada where people go on special excursions into countryside restaurants to enjoy whole afternoons of traditional catalan culture and cuisine. Given the nature though of the event – a bit like an informal family barbecue, where only the poshest of paper tableware is used and the fact that you eat the dish with your hands and make a huge amount of mess, you may be surprised to learn that people dress up for the occasion pay up to 70 euros per head for the privilege!

To buy a single calçot alone would cost around 10p and if you consider that one person would easily eat around 25 calçots plus the rich salsa which is also expensive to make, along with the cava and Priorat red wine the total cost of hosting a traditional Calçotada is not surprising.

Preparing calcots

We were fortunate enough again this year to enjoy this fantastic dish all prepared by hand from the salsa made by Montse our neighbour and her good friend Pi, even down to the home grown calçots which had been nurtured from seed to table by Rafael, Dad to Montse and the master of outdoor cuisine. Rafael explained to us just why the cost of calçots are so high.

The calçots are typically eaten between the end of winter and March or April, often coinciding with Easter festivities but the preparation begins the whole year before when the seeds are planted. To grow the scallions for calçots is a year long process requiring lots of expertise, patience and care. Once the onions have grown to around 20cms they are removed from the soil and left for a couple of months. Then during the autumn and winter they are buried again in soil and left to sprout the shoots which are the calçots. Each onion will give between 6-10 calçots and will be ready for picking early Spring, a year from when the first seeds were planted.

Calçots with salsa romesco followed by barbecued meats is a true Catalan gourmet event which we are delighted to have enjoyed with our neighbours on more than one occasion. It is quite an expensive and time consuming exercise but a once a year indulgence and unique gastronomic and social experience which is well worth the effort and preparation.

CALCOTS IN ROMESCO SAUCE

CalcotsTraditional Catalonian recipe for romesco salsa from Tarragona accompanied with barbequed “calçots”. An interesting recipe that has been made for generations, expensive in top quality Catalan restaurants and does take a while to prepare but the end result is nothing short of fabulous. One ingredient you won’t find below is the addition of “friends”, an all important part of this predominantly Easter dish. As true social affair this recipe can made over the main part of the day then enjoyed in true Spanish style the day after. Don’t forget the wine . . .

Ingredients

For the Salsa Romesco:
250g toasted almonds
150g toasted hazelnuts
4 walnuts
100g pine nuts
1 dried sweet red pepper or (nora), roughly chopped
¼ dried chilli pepper, roughly chopped
6 medium ripe tomatoes
7 cloves garlic
3 calçots
Salt
Tablespoon good wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

Equipment:
Wood fired barbeque, newspaper for wrapping.

Method (traditional):

  • Roast the tomatoes, two of the calçots and the garlic on the barbeque, keeping one clove aside. Allow the vegetables to cool and then peel removing the seeds from the tomatoes too.
  • Place the nuts, sweet pepper, chilli, all the vegetables, salt and vinegar into a blender or food processor and mix well.
  • Slowly add the olive oil as you continue to mix (you will need quite a bit of oil, about 300ml, as the nuts will make the salsa quite thick)
  • Keep mixing and slowly adding the oil until the sauce is smooth and thick.
  • Check the seasoning and pour the salsa into a dish or even a jar, cover and keep in a cool place for a day or so until you are ready to use it.

For the Calcots:

For this traditional recipe you will need 5 dozen calcots (scallions) in their entirety. Give them a quick rinse under the tap and leave to dry. The barbeque coals are the key to success – a thick layer of hot coals is ideal, place the scallions on top of the bbq grill and cook until the undersides of the scallions turn black. Rotate and cook the scallions until they are black all over (20 – 30 minutes). Once cooked wrap them up into 5 batches of 12 using newspaper. Your “Calcots” are now ready to eat.

How to eat:

Traditional calcots are served on Spanish roof tiles (see below). Open each dozen from their newspaper and lay out on the upturned roof tile. Serve the romesco sauce into small terracotta cazuelas one for each person. Take your calcot and gently pull away the blackened outer skin to reveal the tender centre, dip or “swirl” in the salsa and enjoy! There is no getting away from the fact that enjoying this Catalan delight is somewhat of a messy business but in good company no-one minds at all!

Serves 6

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