Charred calçots waiting to be stripped, dipped and eaten
Before I was invited to a press preview at Tapas Brindisa in London’s Shoreditch for this year’s Calçotada, I had only the slightest understanding of what a calçot actually was. (In my head they sit with ramps in the ‘slightly unusual alliums’ category.)
I’m presuming I was not alone in failing to grasp the onion, so allow me to share my new found knowledge: calçots are milder and less bulbous than onions, and are roughly the shape of small leeks or large spring onions. Grown in Valls in Catalonia in Spain, calçots are a registered EU Protected Geographical Indication, and their harvest is celebrated with a social gastronomic occasion known as the calçotada.
(The Catalan word calçot comes from the word calçar which describes the agricultural act of continuously covering an onion bulb with soil to encourage it to sprout and grow tall, thin and sweet. )
Tapas Brindisa Shoreditch
Over the next two months Tapas Brindisa Battersea and Tapas Brindisa Shoreditch will be running their own version of the Calçotada with a 3-course menu for £35, with either a traditional – lots of grilled meats, basically, or a vegan option, for which I was truly, truly grateful. (After thirty plus years of lugging my vegetarianism about like a slightly embarrassing dirty secret, I cannot tell you how just plain nice it is to be able to go out for lunch and eat all of the things. Thank you millenials, other enlightened 21st century people, and anyone else who has helped this come about )
The Vegan Feast menu with a glass Poron
– a Spanish drinking vessel – in the background
The menu: calçots and romesco sauce, followed by globe artichoke ‘Caldoso’ soupy rice, and accompanied by sautéed white beans and wild mushrooms, Escalivada – flame roasted vegetables, crinkled new potatoes and mojo rojo, spinach, onions, pine nuts and raisins, and served with sourdough toast and olive oil. Pudding is a vegan crema Catalana.
The calçots are accompanied by a very necessary plastic bib and wet wipe. Although, frankly, as we discovered, if you can get by with a single wet wipe and napkin after tackling a bunch of calçots then you are not doing the onions justice.
The charred calçots
The process is necessarily messy – and fun. It’s certainly interactive. First you snip off the calçot at the root end and peel back the charred skin to get to the sweet onion flesh underneath, before slathering it in the delicious romesco sauce.
Traditionally one drinks vast quantities of wine during a calçotada, but it was Saturday lunchtime so we were being abstemious, piously sipping Seedlip cocktails in true January fashion. For those keen to stick to tradition, there is a glass Poron, a spouted Spanish drinking flask. (Try saying that after drinking the contents of a Poron.)
The calçot stripping technique being demonstrated
The end result
The Vegan Feast
Globe Artichoke ‘Caldoso’ soupy rice
The vegan crema Catalana which finished the set meal was a triumph – cleverly constructed using soy milk, agar agar, orange zest, sugar and cinnamon, it’s a neat dupe for the real McCoy.
The Calçotada Festival feast will be available every weekend during February and March at both Tapas Brindisa Battersea and Tapas Brindisa Shoreditch, with a 3-course menu for £35. (Choose from Traditional or Vegan.)
Please note a 48hr. advance booking period is required.
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