When I tried calçots once before in a restaurant, I wasn’t overly impressed. Essentially a cross between a spring onion and a small leek, it was ok, but it didn’t blow me away by any means. However, this humble onion has now risen well above my expectations, thanks to 5000 other onions, 400 botifarra sausages, gallons of red wine and several buckets of romesco sauce. Take these delicious ingredients and throw in a gloriously sunny day, then you get the real experience of a calçotada – and boy, does it taste good! This fabulous tradition in Catalunya happens every spring when the calçots come into season around February and March. Family and friends gather together to barbecue these simple yet delicious vegetables, usually served wrapped in newspaper with a side of scrumptious romesco sauce and red wine.
I discovered this particular calçot festival on the home dining site EatWith, and it was hosted by Pasión Culinaria and Slow Food; forming a perfect combination of organizations who specialise in bringing people together to share their love of good food in a splendidly social way. Having attended the more ‘usual’ Eat With experiences before (where enthusiastic and passionate cooks welcome guests into their homes for authentic home cooked meals) I didn’t hesitate in signing up to try a different experience and join 400 other people for lunch in a field.
This weekend was the first real spring weather we have had, and the sun shone brightly as we boarded the coach with great excitement at Plaça de les Drassanes on Sunday morning. The calçotada was to take place in Gallecs Park, a rural area which, although just 30 minutes outside of Barcelona, felt like another world. So much so it actually reminded me of the green fields of crops where I grew up in Lancashire. The relatively early 11am start was a bonus, as it gave us time to explore the park, and wander along the paths between fields of green shoots and flowers, and through the surrounding woodland. It felt delightfully liberating to be close to nature again after battling the hustle and bustle of daily city life in Barcelona. After an hour or so exploring [aka getting lost], we found our way back to the farm where the tables had already been set for the big event. The farm area was also home to a chapel, and an organic food shop selling the locally grown food and organically produced sauces, pastas and lots more besides, and our fellow diners were dotted around chatting and enjoying the sunshine.
After sampling the organic beer and enjoying more sunshine with the waft of barbecue smoke in the air, it was finally time to eat. The menu was simple yet extremely effective; calçots served with romesco sauce and home baked bread to mop up the remaining sauce, followed by botifarra sausage with white beans and allioli, finished with sweet coca bread and mistela (a sweet wine similar to sherry). The feast was accompanied by barrels of local read wine, and of yet more sunshine.
As I discovered, there is apparently a knack to eating calçots – a skill which unfortunately I have yet to master. It seems to involve gripping the bottom bulb part of the calçot, then sliding the charcoal blackened outer layer down over the bulb, to reveal the pale green sweet flesh beneath. I, however, ended up with more of a browny, oniony mess after wiping the charcoal along the whole length of what was clean onion, although admittedly after a liberal dipping in romesco sauce it really didn’t matter. The real fun of calçots is in actually eating them, which, after dipping them full length in sauce, is not a delicate matter – you dangle them down into your mouth as a sword eater would hold his blade, and gobble them down in one. A gloriously messy affair all round, and with blackened fingers, romesco spattered clothes and wine stained mouths we enjoyed every second of the feast!
We stayed chatting as the sun started to go down on the farm, winding our way back to the coach and Barcelona as the sun set on a beautiful day. Once back in Barcelona we finished the day in style – going for what I thought would be a quiet goodbye drink, we stopped in at Barts on Avinguda Parallel on the way home, and walked into a full on party at 7pm on Sunday! Well it would be rude not to join in, so we got our drinks and danced well into the evening. A surreal but typically Barcelona evening, there is always something going on somewhere every night! Stumbling home at 10pm, I collapsed into bed feeling thoroughly satisfied with the day’s events, and fell asleep to dream of rural farmyards, charcoal stained hands and heavenly calçots.
Read about my first Eat With experience in my Pork Tie guest blog here
All photographs and content copyright of Claire Sturzaker © and Tales of Barcelona.