A deliciously simple Catalan dish from Jenny Chandler
There’s nothing better than a seasonal treat, and calçots are just that. These sweet green onions are celebrated in their Catalan homeland from January to April—and at last we can get hold of them in Britain too.
The idea is to pull off the blackened sheath of outer skin, then dip the soft, sweet onion into a gloriously nutty romesco sauce before throwing back your head and lowering it into your open mouth. It’s not an ideal first date dining procedure but it’s fun, it’s a ritual and it’s what eating calçots is all about.
There’s no point making a tiny amount of sauce—the quantities given below will make more than you need, but it’s heaven on sourdough toast, with endives in a winter salad or served alongside green veg, fish or lamb.
5 dried ñora peppers or 1½ tbsp sweet Spanish paprika (unsmoked)
1 small dried red chilli pepper
50g blanched almonds
50g hazelnuts, skins removed
3 ripe, medium sized tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, skin left on
2-4 tbsp red wine vinegar
5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of 25 calçots (around 6 per person)
To make the sauce, set the oven to 180C. Rip open the whole ñora peppers (if using) and soak in warm water for 15 mins. Meanwhile, roast the nuts until golden (5-10 mins) and the tomatoes and garlic until soft and sweet (10-15 mins).
Drain the ñora peppers and remove their stalks and seeds.
Take a food processor or blender and crush the nuts with the ñora peppers (or the ground paprika) and chilli pepper. Next, squeeze the softened garlic from its skin and add along with the tomatoes (skin and all) and half the vinegar and oil. Blend to a thick paste. Taste, then balance with more vinegar, oil and salt as required.
Wash any mud or grit off the calçots, but don’t worry about removing the shabby outer layers as these will come off later. You can slice off the roots now or after the calçots are cooked, but make sure you lose as little of the sweet bulb as possible.
Fire up your grill, heat a griddle pan, use the top plate of your range oven or even light the barbecue. Char the calçots over a high heat for about 10-15 mins, turning at least once so that they cook evenly. They should end up thoroughly blackened, with the flesh inside fabulously soft.
If the onions still feel rather firm after charring, wrap them in foil and finish cooking for 10 mins in a hot oven. When ready, wrap them in newspaper in portion-size bundles so that they continue to cook and sweat for at least 15 mins after cooking.
To eat, grip the green top of the calçot in one hand and pull down on the blackened skin with the other, pulling away a sheath of charred skin and revealing the soft, succulent flesh within. Dip into the romesco sauce, dangle the calçot over your mouth and devour.
Recipe: Jenny Chandler
Images: John Holdship