What is calçotada?
A calçotada festival is a Catalan feast where people gather to eat calçots, or grilled onions.
This Spanish tradition is the sign that spring is just around the corner, a way to say goodbye to the winter by eating fresh and young onions.
Calçot is a type of green onion and it comes from the Valls region in Catalonia, Spain.
The calçot is a registered EU Protected Geographical Indication.
Are calçots green onions? Is a calçot a leek?
Calçots are a type of spring onion that is closely related to the regular onion.
If you see them, you would mistake them for thick spring onions or young fine leeks because they look very similar. They are at their best at the very end of the winter.
Traditionally calçots are grilled on a barbeque until they are charred and black outside, then wrapped in newspaper to steam further and cool down.
How do you eat calçots?
Do you know what the traditional way is to eat calçots the right way?
The trick here is to hold a grilled calçot onion up by one hand and peel a couple of blackened sandy outer layers with your other hand until you reach that perfectly pure white onion meat underneath. Chop off the roots if they haven’t come off while peeling the calçot onion and…
Dip the lukewarm soft onion in a traditional creamy romesco almond sauce, tilt your head back and lower the calçot onion into your mouth. It is pretty much like eating Dutch new herring!
Chew off a mouthful of the onion, then dip the rest of it back in the sauce and again and again.
What a heavenly treat…
What do calçots taste like?
Calçots are a type of spring onion and therefore they have a very sweet and mild taste if they are grilled.
They are not strong at all.
Their flavor is just like a sweet young leeks or spring onion.
How do you pronounce calçots?
The Catalan pronunciation is: [kəlˈsɔt]
Where can I eat calçots?
You can find the calçotada on quite a few menus in springtime all over Spain.
Where is where we tasted calçots and loved them:
- In Barcelona: “L’Antic Forn” and “Cerveseria Catalana”
- In Madrid: “La Divina de Castellana” and “Casa Jorge”
With what do you serve calçots?
With romesco sauce!
The first time we had this was in Barcelona. We were enjoying a wonderful calçotada feast in the Antic Forn restaurant, char grilled onions served in a ceramic roof tile…
We were astounded by how delicious and simple this delicacy was!
Calçots & Calçotada
Oh you should see how people enjoy this classic.
Well the last time I tried them was in Madrid with a bunch of friends. If you order calçots, you always get a large bib to keep your clothes from getting stained by the charred onion greens.
Be prepared to get your hands, face and table dirty if you plan a calçotada!
But it is great fun to do with friends. Wash it all down with a good Spanish white wine! And it is a great time to show off your porron skills!
Been there, done that, didn’t work for me.
I guess I should just practice more!
Prepping a calçotada at home
I don’t always find the right onions to prepare this Spanish classic calçotada festival at home.
But young leeks also work very well.
You can choose how you prepare them: grilled on the barbecue wrapped in tinfoil, oven baked or baked on a hot plate.
Leeks can take a while to cook.
Nothing more unappetizing than an undercooked leek. When we don’t have a lot of time, we usually steam the leeks first the day before. Let them chill overnight in the fridge and then grill them in an oven or on a hot plate the day after.
It is a shortcut, but it works.
The Right Grill
Of course you can prepare a calçotada festival at home!
These grilled onions are a treat, the perfect recipe to try out when you feel like doing some outdoor cooking.
But which grill is perfect for this job? Check out this comprehensive article by Globo Surf on how to choose the right grill.
Homemade romesco sauce
That red sauce that goes with it is not a Spanish mojo.
It is a typical almond dip or Spanish romesco sauce is just for calçotada.
It is also a great companion for fish and seafood.
We love it with cooked prawns or grilled octopus.
For this recipe below we used the traditional ñora peppers because they are easy to find here in Spain. However you can leave them out or just add a pinch of smoked paprika to the romesco sauce to replace it.
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 120 min
Servings: 1 cup
- 9 oz fresh tomatoes (250 g), chopped
- 3 oz almonds (100 g), peeled
- 1 medium slice of bread, diced
- 1 medium garlic clove, sliced
- ½ small onion, sliced
- 1 large dried ñora pepper (optional)
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- ½ tsp smoked paprika (optional)
- olive oil
- Place the sliced onion, garlic and chopped tomatoes in a baking tray and sprinkle with olive oil, pepper and salt.
- Place the tray in a preheated oven at 356°F (180°C) and roast the vegetables for 45 minutes until soft. Then turn the oven off, give the vegetables a stir and place the tray back in the cooling oven for another 30 minutes.
- Soak the ñora pepper in hot water. (optional)
- Add the diced bread to a dry non-stick pan and roast it for 3 minutes.
- Blend the almonds roughly and add them to the pan with roasted bread. Roast it for another 5 minutes until it is lightly colored. Stir regularly.
- Pour the almonds and bread in the blender and let it cool for a few minutes.
- Blend it into a very fine mixture. Add the oven roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion.
- Blend again. Strain the soaked pepper, slice them open and scrape out the soft pulp inside. Discard the seeds and tough skins. Add the soft pepper pulp to the blender (or the smoked paprika if you don’t use the pepper) and season well with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Blend again. Add the red wine vinegar and 5 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Blend into a sticky wet puree. Check the seasoning and add extra salt to taste. Scoop the romesco sauce in a bowl and serve lukewarm. All set for your homemade calçotada!