Calçots are a seasonal vegetable similar to leeks or spring onions grown in the area surrounding Barcelona and Tarragona. They are normally available from January ’til April and by far the best way to try them is cooked on a barbecue accompanied by Romesco sauce, local wine and a group of friends.
Don’t let the fact that you’re staying in a hotel or apartment put you off, the majority of people who live in Barcelona don’t own a barbecue either. Luckily there are several “Merenderos” (picnic areas) close to the city as well as vineyards which have barbecues set up. They supply the barbecue, firewood and tables and you just bring what you want to eat and drink (in the case of the wineries, you are expected to buy their wine).
Preparing Calçots couldn’t be easier. There’s no need to clean them or cut the roots off, simply place them on the barbecue as shown above. Unlike meat and other vegetables which cook best over hot embers, calçots should be cooked while there are still flames. After about five minutes you will see bubbles of juice escaping through the blackened outer leaves signalling that the calçots are cooked. Wrap them in newspaper and carry them to the table.
How to Eat Calçots
The traditional way to eat calçots is to peel off the blackened outer layer, dip the inner part in romesco sauce. Lift the calçot above your head so it hangs down vertically, tip your head back and lower the calçot into your mouth. Be warned this is a pretty messy business!
Romesco Sauce Recipe:
Romesco sauce is available in pretty much all greengrocers and supermarkets in Barcelona. However, if you have time and are staying in an apartment with a kitchen it’s easy to prepare your own. Here’s my personal recipe for Romesco sauce which I’ve adapted from a few recipes I found on the web.
- 6 ripe tomatoes
- 1 mug (250g) of roasted peeled almonds
- 1/2 mug (125g) of roasted peeled hazelnuts
- 5 dried ñoras
- 1 whole garlic
- 1 small slice of toast (3 slices if you’re using a baguette)
- 2 teaspoons of Jerez vinegar
- A glass and a half of extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Wrap the whole garlic in foil with a little olive oil and roast it in the oven along with the tomatoes. There’s no need to wrap the tomatoes in foil, just drizzle a little oil over them and lightly oil the baking tray to stop them from sticking.
The garlic takes about 45 minutes to cook, the tomatoes 20 to 25 minutes. Note: The ñoras which you can buy in greengrocers or supermarkets in Barcelona are dried and if you try to roast them they burn. I have found that it is best to use them raw.
Peel and finely chop the almonds and hazelnuts.
Wipe the ñoras clean with dry kitchen paper, remove the stem and seeds and tear them into strips. If you are making the sauce at home and can’t get ñoras you can use a dried red pepper or failing that a spoonful of cayenne pepper instead.
Wet the toast with the vinegar and cut it up.
Peel the garlic into a mixing bowl or blender- I find the best way is to just squeeze each of the cloves as if it was a tube of toothpaste.
Add the roasted tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients except for the oil and chop finely with a mixer or blender.
Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
Add the oil a little at a time and mix in slowly with a wooden spoon. It takes several minutes to blend the full quantity of oil.
The recipe makes approximately a pint and a half of Romesco sauce, enough for 8 to 10 people. It tastes even better after 24 hours in the fridge.
If you’re in Barcelona during the season and want to try Calçots but don’t have time to hold a Calçotada, they are available in restaurants throughout the city.