Friday, 9 March 2012

Sucking vegetables: The Way of the Calçotada

I have a friend Don Purple who is a stylist in New York. Part of what makes him a good stylist is his vast collection of things he's picked up over the years. I remember the last time i saw Don we were in Scotland and his favorite thing to do was trawl the numerous charity shops looking for "collectibles". At that time his collectibles were all porcelain white animals. Anything…bunnies, kittens, puppies, would be considered and sometimes purchased. I confess i didn't understand it really, it was just 'stuff', but years later when i saw some of the brilliant photos he styled it clicked.

I'm a collector too, although my stuff isn't porcelain white animals. My stuff is local food experiences. It's not necessarily about exotic or hard to find or 'best in class' ingredients. It's more about the particular local ingredients and how they're celebrated in the local culture. Like….german rye bread slathered with schmaltz...

or the famous pork pies from the Ginger Pig...

I like to go to someplace new and eat something from that place -- doing that sears that place on my memory better than any instagram can do.

Lucky for me there are a ton of regional food festivals here in Catalunya. i've already missed the Fesolada (white bean festival) in Sant Pau. And i know that on the horizon there will be a chicken and artichoke festival in Prat Llobregat this month

Right in our town of Castelldefels we had a Calçotada. The featured ingredient is the calçot. It's basically a variety of spring onion. I noticed that all the local fruiterias (where you also buy veg) had stands of calçots cropping up around the beginning of january. when i asked my team mates about them they told me about Calçotadas which are meals centered around the calçot.

the usual way of preparing and eating calçots is to grill them over a barbecue until the outer layers are completely charred and the inside is cooked to a sweet pulp.

Since there's already a barbecue going the rest of a Calçotada is made up of grilled meats and maybe even potatoes and artichokes.

the other essential element of a Calçotada is the romesco sauce that you dip the calçot in before eating it. apparently it's the quality of the romesco that distinguishes a good Calçotada from an average one. and of course the other essential requirement is the company of good friends to enjoy the experience with.

there's a definite learned technique to eating a calçot. at last week's Calçotada our friend asela demonstrated the technique. first, peel off the charred outer skin. next, swish the cooked white part in the romesco. finally suck the end, pulling the onion up through your teeth to get every last juicy bit.

kelsie wasn't too impressed with the sucking vegetables bit. she was far too fascinated with our new friend alba who was captivated by the oranges we had.

i of course sucked and savored every last calçot and had enough to last me until next year's festivities.


Kavey said...

I've never been to a calcotada in Catalunya but had great fun learning all about it and sucking my way through an enormous number of calcots at the very first London calcotada, organised by Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking. And after we'd eaten so many we could hardly move, out came plates and plates of the barbequed meat! But we were told we had NOT finished until we ate the orange!

kelsie and mel said...

@kavey -- that pretty much sums up our experience. i am now determined to experiment with making romesco. i imagine it's as much of a texture/flavour challenge as pesto. i just know i want it on everything grilled.