What is calcot? The Spanish dish that’s a tradition, a celebration and an entire lifestyle


THE DISH

Calcots, Spain

PLATE UP

Today’s dish is a single ingredient: the calcot. And yet it’s also a meal, a tradition, a celebration, and an entire lifestyle. Oh, and it’s absolutely, mind-bogglingly delicious. A calcot is a long, green onion that, to meet EU Protected Geographical Indication standards, must be grown in the rich soils of the Alt Camp region of Catalonia. It starts as a bulb planted in soil that is gradually piled higher and higher around the onion to make it grow into something resembling a leek. These calcots are then roasted over a fire of grape wood, wrapped in newspaper to steam, and then served with a nutty sauce called “salvitxada”. Calcots are in season from November to April; that’s when Catalans attend “calcotades”, feasts dedicated to their consumption.

FIRST SERVE

This will be hard for Catalans to hear, because they’ve long believed calcots were cultivated in the late 19th century near the town of Valls by a farmer named Xat de Benaiges. But there’s evidence that calcots were being eaten back in Roman times. A 3rd-century painting found in Hungary shows a man, eating what experts believe is most definitely a long, green onion.

ORDER THERE

Despite its Roman origin, the heartland of the calcotada is the area around Valls. One of the best restaurants offering this meal, in season, is Cal Ganxo (calganxo.com) in Masmolets.

ORDER HERE

Though you won’t find any Australian restaurants doing full calcotades, it’s possible to create your own. In Sydney, Block 11 Organics (block11organics.com.au) sometimes has calcots for sale, while in Victoria, try Torello Farm (torellofarm.com.au).

ONE MORE THING

A calcotada is a full-day event, beginning with a beer or two in the sun, before a round of calcots with red wine, and then grilled meats, beans and artichokes paired with local cava, and then maybe a creme Catalan to finish.



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