Monday, February 25, 2008

Calçots - from la Grande Bouffe Catering Ibiza


Where to begin? Calçots, coming form the word calçat meaning shoe, are a Catatlan obsession. You only need to drive round Catalunya at this time of year to see the popularity of these glorified spring onions.There are signs for them everywhere. Everywhere. Glorified? Yes. But with good reason. Them is awful good.

What are they? They are spring onions that are left in the ground past the normal cropping time and as the shoot grows the almost certainly chain smoking farmer covers it with earth so the stem gets whiter and longer. So this goes on until it is closer in size to a leek than a spring onion.

One of the great things about living in Spain is they celebrate life. When it is the Saint’s day of the village they have a week of parties with massive paellas for hundreds of people, appalling live acts, great live acts, local dances and loads of eating, drinking, kids running around and they finish off the week's celebrations with half the local government's budget going up in smoke in hugely over the top fireworks displays.They have pig killings where the whole family and neighbours get together to kill the fatten pig and then turn the whole animal into sausages. When a fish runs through the local waters at a particular time of the year they are to be seen on every menu. Valencia nearly burns itself to the ground every year. Bull running.

Calçot time is no exception. Large numbers of people get together, light fires, make sauces, get their bibs on and gorge. Some places specially built for calçot gourging have troughs in the latrines instead of hand basins cos it is such a messy business. They are so messy because the calçots are actually placed in the fire so the outside becomes burnt and you have to hold on to it to get the inside prize bit out. Once out, you stick it in the Calçot sauce, tip your head back and lower the thing in. So you get your hands filthy handling the calçot and your face and chest filthy with the sauce dropping all down you as you try to get the calçot into your mouth.

When they are burnt enough they are wrapped in newspaper to let the steam finish the cooking and then they are served in roofing tiles. In the words of that black guy who gets shot at the beginning of Warriors – “CAN YOU DIG IT?’ A roofing tile as a plate – now that is style.

The sauce is a version of Romesco and much blood is spilt every year in arguments over who makes the best sauce. Fortunately I’m good with a knife.There is a place in Catalunya that has a competion each year for the best sauce. The funny thing about this competion is you are only allowed to use specific ingredients. There is no room for artistic/culinary interpretation and mixing of ingredients. Good thing probably, given the horrors that are produced when chefs decide to get ‘creative.’