Monday, February 14, 2011

love is in the air. so is onion breath.

Ever noticed something adorable about the souvenir shops in Barcelona, Bilbao or San Sebastian? All those T-shirts and keychains featuring a Basque flag and a Catalan flag squeezed in next to each other, as if to say, "hey, baby, mind if I move in closer?"

This is because Euskal Herria and Catalunya have big regional crushes on each other. Both have languages distinct from Spanish, after all, and both have sizable independence movements. And both have a seriously righteous - sometimes downright intimidatingly so - food tradition. Today being both Valentine's Day and the day I got back from a mini-vacation to Catalunya, I've decided to indulge the puppy love for a few extra days with Catalan Week on Life in la Capital del Mundo.

First up: calçots.

All you really need to know to be successful at the event known as a calçotada is this: get ready to get messy, and you pronounce the "ç" like an "s."

These poor little guys have no idea what's coming...

Phase one: calçot growing. Sometime in the late summer or early fall, plant some nice white onions. Spend the next several months gently packing dirt up around them so they grow long and green, like leeks. These guys have some great instructions if you care to create your own little slice of Catalunya somewhere. Then, in late winter, pull them up! On to phase two: calçot cooking.

To cook calçots: grill to the point of charring. Remove from grill/fire pit, then roll them up into bunches and let them steam in their own goodness until they're a little squishy. You may do this part yourself, or you may, as we did, go to a restaurant where everything up until here is handled for you. Don't worry, I have big plans to grow my own calçots next year.

Phase three: calçot eating. First, put on a bib. This is key if you don't want to wind up with romesco sauce all down your front.

Next, holding calçot by the green part in one hand, strip off the charred outer layer. Allow Anselmo to demonstrate:

Finally, dip calçot in romesco sauce, then, in the immortal words of Tony Bourdain, "coil gracefully into your grateful, gaping maw."

The only appropriate response to a calçotada invitation.

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