Friday 30 January 2015

Adventures in Catalonia: Calçotada

Earlier this week, I was reminded of the wonderful tradition of the calçotada after a chance comment by a foodie friend. A calçotada is an annual barbecue held during the winter months in Catalonia to celebrate the harvest of the calçot. A calçot is a type of mild flavoured onion (known as blanca gran tardana) that I can best describe as a cross between a leek and a spring onion. It is thought that the calçot originates from Lleida, one of the oldest towns in Catalonia.
We were invited to a calçotada up in the Prades mountain range by my husband’s work colleagues from Valls when he had just moved to Tarragona. It was a particularly memorable experience as the region was hit by unexpected gales that weekend and our small convoy of cars struggled to drive up the narrow, winding mountain roads at times!

On this blustery January day, our destination was a public picnic spot complete with benches and outdoor cooking areas. Preparation for the calçotada involved placing fresh and still muddied calçots side by side onto large grill racks before cooking them over fierce flames until the outer layers were charred. Once the calçots were blackened, they were then wrapped up in several sheets of newspaper. This process of wrapping helped to gently steam and soften the onions. Various meats and sausages were also barbecued as an accompaniment to the calçots. Bread and delicious sauces were also served alongside plentiful quantities of red wine.

It was a fun and messy meal as the tasty, soft white insides of the calçots had to be revealed by stripping of the blackened outer layers with our bare hands. The onions were then dunked into salvitxada or romesco sauces. Plus the red wine was shared amongst us all via a porrón (glass pitcher with long stem) and this was a very tricky technique to master! Infact, I am sure that we gave up in the end and cheated by drinking the wine from cups.

For me, it was a truly memorable experience and the start of many exciting adventures in Catalonia. More information about the calçotada can be found by clicking here.

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