Calçots are a variety of spring onion with a milder sweeter flavour and in many respects are more similar to a thin leek than an onion.
Their shape and the name calçot comes from the Catalan verb calçar, which as an agricultural term means to cover the base in soil and encourage upward growth.
Although the origin of calçots is disputed, it is said that they were invented by peasant farmer Xat de Benaiges at the turn of the 20th century in Valls in Tarragona Province.
Apparently, he planted garden onions and covered them with soil so the stems stayed white and edible.
Whatever the origin, the calçot from Valls is a EU Protected Geographical Indication or D.O.
The popularity of the calçot has given rise to the calçotada -
Catalan plural, calçotades - which is really just an excuse for a big
get together, very typical of the community-oriented Catalans, and
although they were originally celebrated in Tarragona Province,
calçotades are now held all over Catalonia.
You can go to a calçotada in a restaurant in the Barcelona area but the best way to enjoy one is out in the countryside in a Catalan farmhouse or masia, so you'll have to get in with a group of Catalans and get yourself invited.
I generally get invited to a couple every year and the experience is always very enjoyable.
We generally arrive at the Masia around 1.30 pm, and we locate our group of friends.
There are normally between 10 and 15 of us but as we go to the same places every year, we are generally acquainted with most of the 60 or 70 people there.
I always like to have a look around and at this time the barbecue will have just started but there'll still be a big pile of raw calçots.
These have the longer leaves cut off but are unwashed so there will be some soil on them.
They are then placed on a metal grill over the open fire and cooked until they are nicely blackened.
Once they are ready, the portions of calçots are wrapped in newspaper to keep them warm.
An individual portion is normally around 20 calçots per person and they are eaten off a clay roof tile.
Eating calçots is quite a messy business because the burnt leaves have to be peeled away and then the sweet white onion is dipped in romesco or salvitxada sauce, which is made from almonds, roast tomatoes and olive oil.
The calçots are normally just the starter for a fully-fledged barbecue of various meats and everything is washed down by copious quantities of wine and Catalan cava.
Calçotades are very
Catalan in that they are really an excuse for getting together with a
group of friends and going out into the countryside.
As I mentioned earlier, you can also find plenty of places in the city that organise calçotades, and these will generally be restaurants that specialise in barbecued meat, known as carn a la brasa, throughout the rest of the year.