Calçotada is a real institution in this part of Catalonia and the best way to eat them is out in the country side surrounding Tarragona, together with family and friends.
The call out for a Calçotada feast usually arrives a few weeks earlier and you don’t arrive wearing your best clothes; on a large makeshift grill the calçots are lined up, overlapping each other like some strange thatched roof. A think pungent smoke rises as the outer skin of the onions burns away and it’s down to a fine tuned guess work to know when they are ready. When soft enough they are they are lifted from the grill and bunched up in several newspaper parcels; this keeps the calçots piping hot and they keep cooking from within.
But a Calçotada is not just about calçots; the red hot embers are used to grill meats and artichokes , potatoes wrapped in tin foil and beans are stewed beans in salt and olive oils. While the children play in the fields tables are joined and set with pates and cups filled with delicious home made Romesco sauce. The calçots are unwrapped and everyone joins in, peeling off they outer layer and dipping the partially caramelized onion in to the sauce before lifting this up and tucking in. Soon everyone’s hands are covered in sticky soot, and the Porron filled with red wine, makes the round. This is one great party piece: you lift the Porron it above your heat and try to aim the jet of wine in your mouth – easy to tell novices from old hands as this is rather tricky to accomplish and the red wine ends up running down your neck.
After all the calçots have been scooped up and eaten in comes the grilled meats, the backed potatoes cut in half and drizzled with olive oil, the beans packed with flavor, and the artichokes which you peal until you get to the first soft succulent leaves. The tables end up like a battlefield and things are spilled and passed around but it’s one great earthy feast which is finished off with cakes, liqueurs and strong coffee.
Then it’s the big clear up, leftovers are meticulously divided in to takeaways, the floor is swept, the dishes washed and it’s one more look at the slopes covered in blossoming almond trees before closing the gate and heading home.