This past weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most legendary food festivals in Spain: a calçotada. A Cataluñian tradition, it's a celebration in which a most treasured crop, calçots, is charred over a fire, wrapped in newspaper to steam to tenderness, and then dipped in romesco sauce and eaten. Well, that's the calçotada on paper, and in one sentence. Really, it's so much more, and we got to go behind the scenes.
The calçot is an onion, a generic onion, pulled from the ground, allowed to sprout, and then reburied. The farmer then continues heaping soil over it during its growing period, preserving the whiteness and the slim shape, similar to a leek.
This guy is a farmer from the Valls region, which is the most famous calçot-producing area. His family farm is the Brothers Blanch, and he explained us the abc's of calçots. Can you produce calçots outside of this area? Sure, but they won't be the same. And he does not recommend it. Good thing I'm not very capitalist minded...I was perfectly happy to allow him to pile his authentic calçots on a huge, roaring fire and let them char to black.
Then the party begins.
It's a party made for Marti: fire, messiness, and lots of sauce. The star here is romesco sauce (Bottega cooks, I'm waiting for my USA-made romesco over here...), a sauce of nuts, red peppers, the dried ñora, tomato, olive oil, a splash of vinegar and...Catalan cookies!
Surprise, surprise, American chefs...process all the grilled fancy bread you want, but a LOT of folks over here are making their romesco with soggy, cheap cookies. Word from another source (we were drinking a lot of wine, but it rings true) is that you can just use any old stale bread-y item...croissant, baguette, whatever.
Take calçot. Derobe, scattering charred onion bits EVERYWHERE. Swirl in romesco. Dangle over your mouth and lower. Preferably with bib, and preferably in between drinks from the porrón, a wine dispensing instrument made to distract from the quantity of wine being imbibed via showmanship. Photo at the end of post.
Of course there's more than just grilled onions. Beautiful white beans, drizzled with olive oil and parsley.
Golden, roasted artichokes.
And the crema catalana, which, according to my tablemates, is just creme brulee with a nationalist name. I love researching food during a four-hour drinking session. The answers just get more and more honest.
Thank you, Cataluña. Thank you, porrón.