Calçots are a member of the onion family, typically grown around the town of Valls in Catalunya, At this time of the year the calçotada is a typical event in which family and friends get together to celebrate this glorious vegetable. Around 25 calçots per person are slowly grilled on a barbecue; when they are soft, the outer charred layers are peeled off and the white part is dipped in a romesco sauce and then bitten off the green part and eaten. A calçotada is a messy business and the participants usually wear bibs and traditionally swill wine from the typical Catalan drinking vessel, the porró.
As you can see, calçots are usually cooked on a barbecue/grill. First clean off the outer layers and then grill them slowly to let all of that sweet taste flow.
You need to get on with your sauce before lighting up the fire and then let it sit. This recipe is by Carme Vidal who was born and brought up in Valls and it’s the best one I’ve ever tried. Remember that the quantities are for a large group and adjust them accordingly.
1 mature tomato per person.
100 grams of toasted almonds for each 3 people
1 entire bulb of garlic for each 2 people.
1 “nyora”(type of dried pepper) for each 2 people.
1 litre of olive oil for each 10 people.
A little parsley, vinegar, salt, a small chili (optional)
Blacken the tomatoes and garlic over the flames (not embers), make sure that the flame isn’t too “live” as they need to be cooked.
Scald the “nyoras”in boiling water .
Crush or blend the almonds with the parsley and the chili (if you want a spicy sauce). Then mix in the peeled tomatoes and garlic and the pulp of the nyoras (discarding the seeds). The sauce is made by slowly stirring in the olive oil. Add salt and vinegar to taste.
If you can’t find nyoras, Janet Mendel, in her book “Cooking in Spain”, suggests substituting them with paprika . This sauce is fantastic with any type of grilled vegetables, meat, poultry or fish. It is an important part of the Xato salad.
When the calçots are ready, peel off the charred outer layers and dip into the sauce and eat. Slurping and stains are expected. The calçotada is such an important tradition in Catalunya that most of the political parties were obliged to partake as part of their general election campaigns last weekend, with the socialist party even sporting campaign bibs…
(Photo from http://www.gastronomiavasca.net)
1kg merluza (hake)
100ml white wine
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
caldo de pescado (fish stock)
First get your fish stock on the go or defrost one you’ve saved. (In Spain when we buy fresh fish we get the fishmonger to give us the heads, bones etc. They will usually throw in a bit of parsley.) Put your bones, heads, tails etc in a pot with a couple of tomatoes and some stalks of parsley and a couple of bay leaves. Add a little salt & freshly ground black pepper, cover with a litre of water and bring to the boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer until it is done to your taste. Strain off the liquid and save.
The hake can be in fairly thick steaks or medallions. Salt it and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then turn it in flour. Heat the oil in a casserole or similar pan. The trick to this dish is that, like the James Bond martini, it is shaken not stirred so your cooking vessel must be something you can hold without burning yourself.
Add the pieces of hake and quickly brown on both sides. Now add the chopped garlic (to taste) and the wine. Shake the casserole and begin to add the stock drop by drop until it forms a sauce with the consistency of thick cream. Add the cooked peas – better fresh, but frozen will do, and if you want, any or all of the optional ingredients.
Season with salt and pepper and chopped parsley
Gently shake the casserole from time to time to ensure that the fish doesn’t stick and also to add consistency to the sauce, which will thicken as the fish cooks – about 15 minutes.
Sopa de caldo, apart from the benefits that its ingredients can bring, is comfort food in Spain. Kids, older people and the toothless can all enjoy it and even if it’s not on the menu most restaurants can give you a plate as it is the stock for many other dishes. It’s also very easy to make.Basically sopa is stock. I like to make a large quantity on a Saturday morning and use it over the weekend both as sopa and to make other dishes: Thai noodle soups, meat dishes or whatever. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you can do just the same but just leave out the meat.
So I go to the butcher’s and get a ham bone, chicken carcass and maybe an off-cut of knuckle or whatever. Then I put these things into a big a big sauce-pan with some vegetables – the typical ones here are potatoes, carrots, leeks, parsnip, celery, runner beans and turnips. Plus onion and garlic of course. At this time of the year you can add yams, pumpkin or any other seasonal veg you like. I usually throw in a couple of bay leaves and a handful of parsley stalks and some black pepper. I don’t add salt as there’s plenty from the bones. Then I cook it in the pressure cooker, but you can leave it in a normal pan and cook it over a low heat a good while.When it’s ready you can take off the liquid and use it as stock or sopa.
As this was usually made with low quality ingredients, normally in Spain the rest is discarded except at Christmas or if you are making cocido. To make sopa from this caldo (broth) you heat it up and add some very small pasta. If it’s not available in your part of the world just break up fine spaghetti and throw it into the boiling stock. Reduce the heat slightly so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate. The ratio of pasta to liquid is very personal as some like their sopa thick and others more watery. When the pasta is cooked the sopa is ready to serve.
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