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Catalonia: Calcot Season

Catalonia: Calcot Season
Rob Train: The only thing Catalans love more than the finer things in life are the finer things in life that nobody else has got.
 
"Ultims dies, man, ultims dies," read the email from my brother. Little more
needed to be said. We are men of few words. Five was enough here.
 
Pretty much every year since he and my sister-in-law Karen moved to Catalonia, a spring jaunt for calçot season has been pretty high on my travel menu.
 
The only thing Catalans love more than the finer things in life are the finer
things in life that nobody else has got. And not without good reason. The
culinary plateau in the northeastern region is considerably richer than other
areas of Spain, and I do not say that lightly, being an honorary Madrileño of
nearly 15 years. But there is more on the menu up north, or at least that's the
way it seems. Maybe because I can only read about a third of it.
 
In any case, the calçot is as much a symbol of Catalonian life as the leek is
to Wales. Which isn't that suprising, as they are basically the same thing. A
calçot is a kind of spring onion, dubbed the Puerro tardío de Lérida, or the
"late leek of Lleida," in that province. But Valls is the spiritual home of the
calçot. Although it is far from genetically modified, the calçot was created by the hand of man; legend has it that man was Xat de Benaiges, who first stumbled upon the idea of gradually increasing the amount of soil packed against a garden onion to extend the length of the edible stem.
 
Examples grown in the Valls area carry EU Protected Geographical Indication, of which Valls is suitably proud. There is a webside dedicated to the Valls calçot, and a calendar of events
Catalonia: Calcot Season
surrounding the planting, harvesting, eating and worship thereof. Happliy, it also notes that due to increasingly warm springs in Catalonia, the season now extends well beyond easter. We were in luck.
 
There are many ways to approach a feast of calçots. With a hangover, or something lurking close enough to vaguely resemble one, seems to be my lot. A weekend of indulgence in Gaudí's city had left my vision leaning toward some of his more gaudy creations. Luckily, there was a two-kilometer stroll through the woods to reach the Masia Can Borrell, Sant Cugat, in wilting heat to help shift it.
 
Helping shift my two-year old nephew and his Peppa Pig contraption up
treacherous gravel gradients and across some Peppa Pig-sized potholes helped shift it even more. By the time Can Borrell crested the dusty horizon, we were more than ready to blow the froth off a couple.
 
One of the main differences between a calçot and a leek, or an onion, is that
you don't need gloves to eat a leek or an onion. There were five of us at the
table. We were all provided with bibs.
 
Initially, a calçotada doesn't look promising. You are presented with a charred mess, usually on a plastic plate. The calçots are wrapped in newspaper and grilled, and served with a romesco sauce, made with garlic, tomato, almonds, parsley and olive oil. There is no cutlery.
 
In essence, the prodecure is simple. Take a calçot, grab the leaves, clasp the root between forefinger and thumb, twist, and pull. In reality neat separation is as likely as that currently being pursued by the Catalan regional government but with a ración of calçots, at least you get 12 goes. It doesn't take long to become reasonably proficient, with a reward of solemn nods from your fellow diners. A calçotada isn't lunch, it's ceremony.
 
In taste, a calçot is sweet, and smoky of course, and the romesco sauce is best applied as liberally as the sleek vegetable, and the receptacle, will allow. They are also suprisingly filling, and rich in vitmains and minerals. Some claim it is an aphrodisiac, although that is wishful thinking, probably on the part of the Valls tourism board. If I ever pull anything other than a calçot
while wearing a bib and drooling romesco sauce, it'll be in a very specialist nightclub indeed.
 
It is as well that the calçot provides a source of non-meat-based nourishment, because few places in Catalonia, or Spain for that matter, do when the second course comes around. I order rabbit. I get a rabbit. A whole one. My brother orders a butifarra, the traditional Catalan sausage. And that is exactly what he gets. Karen orders a chuletón (chop) that would choke a lion. We steal my niece's chips when she isn't looking.
 
But that is the essence of Sunday lunch in Can Borrell, and indeed other famous purveyors of calçots, such as Rancho el Paso in La Floresta, during the season.
 
The starter is the main event. The main course is the side-kick. And where the calçot is concerned, amen to that.
 
Masia Can Borrell: Carretera d'Horta a Cerdanyola (BV-1415), km 3 - 08171 Sant Cugat del Vallès www.can-borrell.com
 
Pas Estació, 15, La Floresta, Sant Cugat del Vallès.
ranchoelpaso.com/
 
Catalonia: Calcot Season
1 Comments | Add a comment

COMMENTS

Anna Lebiszczak
London!
1
Hi Rob- Can't believe you are still there eating and drinking your way through Spain! Looks like a lot of fun! Anna! x

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