Once again I found myself amongst friends and strangers scooping up romesco sauce with charred spring onions, stuffing them into my mouth with my bare hands and chasing them with gulps of bottomless rosé. Yes, it was my second time at Back Forty West’s annual version of Calçotada, a Catalonian celebration of spring where a crap load of spring onions are blackened on a grill, dipped in romesco sauce and eaten in abundance.
After we made our way through the onion pile, we hacked through a cut of grill-charred lamb, chewed through big stems of tender broccoli rabe, spooned up creamy, garlicky white beans and finished it all off with individual creme brûlées.
Live musicians played all my favorite Gypsy Kings songs throughout the night; folks danced on chairs and clapped heartily. Back Forty West’s owner pranced from table to table with rosé stains on his shirt offering a carafe of rosé for guests to pour directly into their mouths via the super long spout.
If you’re not a pro, this usually drenches the front of your shirt and causes you to call in sick to work the next day as you continue to attempt getting the wine in your mouth without spilling. I highly suggest that you book a spot at next year’s festival, but until then, you can get a taste of calçotada with the recipe below. Just go easy on the rosé.
RECIPE (Adapted from Eli and Max Sussman's Romesco Sauce recipe from their book "This is a Cookbook: Recipes from Real Life")
3/4 cup raw almonds
1 cup cubed white bread
6 plum tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed
1 yellow onion, cut into slices about 1/2 inch thick
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons paprika (or smoked paprika)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more for increased spiciness)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the almonds for a few minutes until they are golden brown, being careful not to burn them. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a bowl so they cool quickly. Bake the bread cubes until they are golden brown, a few minutes and transfer them to the bowl with the almonds.
2. Place the tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic cloves on rimmed baking sheets making sure they are not overlapping or too crowded. Drizzle them all with the olive oil and sprinkle them with salt. Bake them until they become slightly charred, about 30 minutes or more. Remove the pieces as they char (some may cook faster than others) and transfer them to a large bowl.
3. Once cooled slightly, add the almonds, bread, tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, paprika and cayenne pepper to a food processor. Blend until smooth and add more salt to taste if necessary.
4. Serve the sauce cool, warm or hot with grilled vegetables, meat, eggs, bread or pasta.
How to make grilled spring onions: Trim the ends of the spring onions and throw them on a hot grill or in the broiler, checking them and turning them frequently until they are nicely charred on all sides and very tender. Immediately transfer them to a large piece of tin foil and seal them up for a few minutes to allow the onions to steam and get softer. You can eat them whole, or peel off the charred outside layers, eating just the soft insides.
You might also like: Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Slow Cook Cannellini Beans, So Much Parsley Sauce, Basil Pesto
Top and last two photos by Alan Foreman