At the Farmers' Market: Calcots

We've posted already about the wonders of baby garlic; its flavor when raw is actually stronger than its bulbous, papery big brother, but when cooked mellows to a slightly grassy sweetness. Scallions are common, but can actually be sharper than new onions; leeks are well-known but are not really meant to be eaten raw.

Less well-known are a European variety of scallions, known in the Catalan language (spoken around Barcelona) as calçots.

These cousins of the onion are much wider in the base than traditional scallions and have a much milder onion taste when raw. The traditional way to grow them is to hill dirt around the stalk as they grow, so that there is as much white as possible.

The calçots available at markets are not the traditional calçots de Valls (a protected name and available only in Catalunya), but a similar variety, sometimes marketed as Japanese scallions. Choose plants with the longest white part possible, and make sure the roots look fresh and perky. The season for these is extremely short, so enjoy while you can.

The traditional way to cook calçots is to throw a giant party called a calçotada, where you grill the calçots over wood or grapevines and serve them in huge piles. To eat them, peel off the burned layer and dip them in small bowls of salvitxada, a sauce made of almonds, tomatoes, a huge amount of garlic, oil and vinegar. Chase the calçots with cava (the Catalonian answer to Champagne, but slightly lighter and fruitier and much, much cheaper) or a big, burly Spanish red such as a Priorat or an Alt Penedès.


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