With the same family of friends we usually go away with to Vinaixa, we decided to do our own calçotada, a little closer to home.
´A calçotada, what is that?´…I hear some of you say! Well a calçot is a vegetable (think cross between a spring onion and a leek). They´re in full season here in Cataluña between November and March. Every year people get together a cook calçots (usually big piles of them) with some other vegetables and copious amounts of meat and local sausage. This is all washed down with gallons of local red wine. Think winter barbecue, steeped in tradition, that is both messy and will leave you feeling full to the brim! It really is a culinary highlight for many here in Cataluña.
These are Calçots, sold by the bundle or by the crate full. They are usually still covered in the dirt they were grown in. Not to worry. They are tossed onto the bbq as they are, and grilled, so the outside is charred, but the insides remain soft and sweet.
The man team was headed by Rafa. He stared the fire and skillfully coaxed it to it´s roaring glory. A rotation quickly began with calçots being cooked, then wrapped in newspaper in bundles to keep them warm (they continue to steam while inside).
The womenfolk set up the table and arranged the treats. Cheese and chorizo were sliced and nibbled on in preparation; you could feel (and smell) the anticipation rising.
It wasn´t really divided into men and women, people drifted from the grill area to the picnic area and back again. The only constant was Rafa, diligently manning the grill (and for that we salute you)! After the calçots, other things were grilled, including beautiful big artichokes, which had been brutally smashed face side down on the table, then lovingly drizzled in olive oil.
Aubergines were sliced, ready to be grilled. There was also a selection of fresh herbs and chilies, to be sprinkled on the meat, when it was cooked.
And then came the sardines. What a Pescetarian´s Pleasures! Pressed down in this cage, and grilled right over the soldering hot coals. Delicious!
The sardines signalled the end of the cooking, and the beginning of the eating phase of the day (my favourite phase)! The bundles of calçots, veg and meat were relayed across to the table. Then began the furious activity and excitement!
There is a definite knack to eating calçots, you see. The charred outsides are stripped back, to reveal the warm, sweet flesh inside. This is then dipped into the Romesco sauce before being dangled overhead into the mouth. Job done! Now just repeat that process until you are nearly full. Then move on to the meat, fish, and other goodies!
By the end of the day, everyone was totally full, lounging around and chatting away happily! What a great way to spend a Sunday. There were still some sardines left over, as well as a bunch of calçots, so I set about planning a couple of quick recipes to use up leftover ingredients at home.
Calçot ´noodle´stir fry with prawns
The calçots are cut into long strips and sautéed in a wok with the pepper and garlic (until nearly cooked). Then add a handful of hazelnuts, the flaked sardine meat, some grated ginger, chopped parsley and crispy fish skin. After 2 minutes, remove from the heat, and add some ponzu sauce and the juice of a lime. Sautéed prawns are served on top of this.
Calçot and sardine quiche
For the second recipe, make the shortcrust pastry in advance and gather the ingredients below. The brown sauce is a tablespoon of my chipotle salsa to give it all some kick.
Chop the calçots into inch long pieces and bake for around 30 minutes at 180°. Blind bake the pastry base for 20 minutes. Stand the calçots up on the pastry base and add the flaked sardine meat. Pour over the beaten egg (I used 4 in the end) with the chipotle salsa beaten in and sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped parsley. Bake for a further 30 minutes.