Calçots are giant onion shoots which appear with the almond blossom in February. They are consumed in gargantuan quantities at festivals, called calçotadas in the Pays catalan. The macho test is to eat as many as possible – thirty or forty? Nowhere near enough. Grilled over bonfires of vine prunings on giant grills in the fresh air, they are served wrapped in newspaper using the curved southern roof-tiles as plates. After the onions there will be saucisson sec – the long thin ones called whips or fouets are popular – jambon cru, almonds, hazel nuts, olives, prawns, tomato bread, roast pork and a kind of pizza called coca de recapte; and quantities of red wine and beer.
The sauce aux calgots, a variation on romesco sauce, is made with roasted and pounded garlic, a dried long chilli called bitxo or a sweet, mild heartshaped one called ñora, parsley and almonds or hazelnuts, bound together with olive oil and vinegar. The calçot looks like a bunch of fat onion shoots all coming from the same root. The method of growing them consists of starting them like ordinary onions and then earthing them up, when they produce several stems in a cluster. These are separated, trimmed and washed and are now ready for grilling.
Calçots take a year to grow and are very specialized, consequently we very seldom get them in Britain (for a supplier). But we can make the dish with young, tender leeks which, alas, are nowhere near as fat and juicy, nor as tender and melting as the real thing.