I had never heard of a calçot let alone a calçotada until Rachel from Catalan Cooking decided it was high time Londoners learned more.
She teamed up with Nick at The Drapers Arms and hosted a fabulous Calçotada one sunny evening at the end of March.
So what exactly is a calçot?
Unlike the true scallion or spring onion (Allium fistulosum), which doesn’t form bulbs even when mature, the calçot is a variety of Allium cepa, the regular onion species. It’s a variety bred for mildness of flavour and, after the bulb has been planted, it’s earthed up, just like leeks are, to increase the length of white stem. That action of earthing up the trunk of a plant or vegetable is known in Catalan as calçar, hence the name calçot.
It is grown in Catalonia, Spain and calçots grown in Valls, where thsy are said to have originated, have protected geographical indication status.
And a calçotada ?
In a gastronomical celebration of the calçot, it is popular to hold an event focused on the enjoyment of this local delicacy. It runs from the end of winter through to March or April, the time of year when calçots are harvested.
At the calçotada, calçots are barbecued over charcoal, carefully peeled, dipped into a salvitxada or romesco sauce and joyously and messily eaten. The feast continues with meat, roasted over the charcoal after the calçots have been cooked.
Clearly, the calçotada is not something to be taken lightly. So Rachel enlisted the charming Borja Letamendia, a professional chef and also head of exports for Real Jamon, to be the calçotada head chef for the evening.
The charcoal grills were set up in the pub’s garden area, and the canapés, calçots and meats were enjoyed by three large tables of merry diners in the pub’s upstairs dining room, where Borja told us a little about the feast to come.
At our tables, we sat down to bowls of Arbequina and Empeltre olives and the magnificent platters of Iberico ham, chorizo, lomo and salchichon, from Real Jamon. The meats were truly fabulous; do get your hands on some, if you can.
After this, the calçots started to arrive. And they just kept coming, plate after plate after plate.
All the diners tucked in with gusto, none more enthusiastically than my Spanish table neighbours, who were clearly not newcomers to the calçotada and were happy to see it come to London. We enjoyed them dipped into Rachel’s wonderfully smoky romesco sauce, a recipe you can learn from Rachel at one of her cooking classes.
Making a happy mess, it became clear why Rachel had provided bibs for the occasion!
Just when we were almost satiated, and couldn’t fit in a single extra calçot, the next course was served. More huge platters, this time creaking under the weight of butifarra sausage, chicken and lamb chops with aioli.
Just to make sure we didn’t go home hungry after all that meat, out came the most delicious Crema Catalana. I’ve enjoyed this wonderful dessert before, at one of Rachel’s Catalan supper clubs and cannot praise highly enough that soft, gently citrusy custard and burnt sugar topping.
As is traditional, we were each given an orange to complete the calçotada.
“You’ve not finished a calçotada”, Rachel told me, “until you’ve eaten that orange!” So for me, the calçotada didn’t finish until the next morning!
Calçot season is over for 2011, but do visit Rachel’s website for more information on Catalan Cooking, and to sign up for her other great Catalan food events throughout the year.
Extra images provided by MiMi of Meemalee’s Kitchen… which is just as well as I was far too busy eating to take enough myself!