Calçots, a tale of Catalan gastronomy

 

Catalonia, known for its beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, rich culture ….and food!

Winter is the season for a very special dish, the calçot. The calçot is a type of green onion and originally from Valls in Tarragona, nowadays you will find it on the menu of restaurants all over Catalonia.

Calçots are milder and less bulbous than onions and have a length of between 15 and 25 cm (white part) and a diameter of 1.7 to 2.5 cm at the root. Planted in trenches, like an onion, as a single bulb, and successively increasing the depth of the soil around the stems throughout autumn and winter, they sprout into 4-10 shoots, roughly the shape of small leeks.

The Calçotada is an annual event celebrating the harvest of Calçots. They are grilled over a hot fire, then wrapped up in newspaper, served on terra cotta tiles and eaten, after peeling with bare hands, by dipping them one by one in romesco sauce and are accompanied by red wine and bread. Then follows a course of roasted lamb and sausage and white beans. For dessert, oranges and white cava are served.

The origin of the variety is disputed, but one of the most commonly accepted versions of its history is that they were developed by Xat de Benaiges, a peasant farmer from Valls around the turn of the 20th century. He is said to have been the first to have planted the sprouts of garden onions, covering them with earth so a longer portion of the stems remained white and edible. That action is known in Catalan as calçar, (a Catalan agricultural term which means to cover the trunk of a plant or vegetable with soil. As the plant grows, soil is continuously added, i.e., "calçar” and hence the name calçot.