It has taken me a while to start this post on Calçotades. How do I explain the calçot? As something in between a spring onion and a leek? How do explain the fact you have to barbecue them until they’re completely black and still make it sound appetizing? How do I explain the joys of eating them when you have to wear plastic gloves and a bib for fear of looking like you’ve just come back from a hard day’s work down a mine? I sat, I pondered and I started to reminisce about all the calçotades I have been on since living in Barcelona. As a person who simply loves eating I could never resist the pull of a festival celebrated in Catalonia from December to April which was centered around that very action.
The calçotada originated in Valls, to the south of Barcelona near Tarragona and is now celebrated throughout Catalonia. The first step is barbecuing the calçots over leaves and twigs from olive trees until the outer layer is completely blackened and then bringing them to the table traditionally on newspaper. While the calçots are blackening nicely someone has to prepare the traditional sauce that you dip your calçots into. Salvitxada is made using a small, round red pepper, tomatoes, almonds, garlic and bread all toasted or roasted then combined together with olive oil and salt. Once the calçots are cooked, the barbecue is used to cook the array of meat dished used as the second course. It is traditional to serve butifarra (Catalan sausages) alongside rabbit, chicken, morcilla (similar to black pudding) and other meats. Of course, no Catalan meal can be served without some pa amb tomàquet which (don’t tell any Catalan people I do this) tastes really good dipped into the salvitxada sauce. So now you’re ready for a proper calçotada, on with the plastic gloves and bib to save you scrubbing charcoal off your hands and clothes for the next few days and away we go. Take your calçot, peel off the outer, blackened layer, dip into the salvitxada and enjoy. Follow with the meat course and finish with a traditional dessert such as crema catalana, all washed down of course by local red wine, preferably served in a porró (handy hint: practise drinking with a porró at home first to avoid getting wine all over your face in a crowded restaurant). Really it’s just a shame the calçotada only lasts for four months a year!