My daughter Emily’s just visited from her home in Barcelona, bringing her Catalan boyfriend, and an enormous bundle of calçots sent by his mother.
Eating calçots is a century-old tradition in Catalonia at this time of year. Garden onions are planted deep in the soil, and earthed up throughout their growing period, so they have long thick white stems, just like a leek’s. Harvested between Christmas and Easter, they’re a much appreciated local delicacy.
Really, they should be grilled fiercely over an open fire or barbecue. We lack a barbecue, and in any case, southern France has its own traditions: Holy week is cold, wet and miserable. Without fail.
So we settled for baking them in a fiercely hot oven. And then we got down to the cheerfully messy business of eating them. You strip the hot slippery skin off each calçot, and then dunk it in a punchy romanesco sauce before tipping your head back to ingest the lot. You need napkins, yards of kitchen roll – bibs would be good – and good bread to mop up the juices and sauce.
We had fun, but probably not as much as if we’d visited one of the outdoor festivals dedicated to the eating of these alliums. Watch the video from Valls.