When we were last in Spain, we were fortunate enough to be there during calçot season. Calçots are a Catalan specialty, where they take a typical full-grown white onion and replant it, keep it mostly covered with soil while it sprouts, and then harvest it in late winter, when it's grown long shoots like a small leek. Traditionally, they're grilled over an open fire till blackened on the outside and tender within, then served with a romesco sauce for dipping. To eat, you peel off the blackened outer layer, then dip and dangle the onion over your mouth like a sword-swallower. In parts of Spain they have festivals - calçotades - dedicated to their consumption.
The four spring onions that came in last week's CSA box were hardly enough for a festival, but I find their mild sweet flavor pretty similar to calçots, and thought I'd duplicate the preparation on a small scale.
There are many variations on romesco recipes, but the standard components are dried peppers, hazelnuts, bread crumbs, olive oil, paprika, and a touch of vinegar. Tomatoes make an appearance in many recipes, as do roasted red peppers - sometimes singly, sometimes in combination. I had not done a shopping trip in preparation, so my romesco was more of a raid-the-pantry version. The mise en place:
Spring onions; dried guajillo pepper (soaking in hot water); toasted pine nuts; toasted bread; garlic; pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika); jarred piquillo peppers; olive oil; red wine vinegar. Not quite right, but it'll do.
The garlic, pine nuts, and bread (cut into small cubes) went into the food processor and were chopped to a paste. Then the chile pepper was chopped into small pieces and added, along with a drizzle of the soaking water, and processed. Next, the piquillo peppers, and a spoonful of pimentón. Then drizzle in olive oil - about 4-5 tablespoons - until it gets a glossy, creamy texture. The guajillo pepper was still pretty fiery, so I added a bit more water too. Finally, a drizzle of red wine vinegar to taste to perk up the flavors (I used about a tablespoon), and salt to taste.
I covered the pan for a few minutes to let them steam and grill at the same time, and with about 2-3 minutes per side these were tender with nice char marks. Then, since this was going to turn into breafkast, I toasted some bread, cooked a couple eggs sunny side up in hot olive oil, and final assembly:
These onions are marvelously sweet and tender, with just a hint of the typical allium bite. And the romesco has lots of other functions. Even made with more traditional components than I used, it's a robust, hearty sauce. It's good just with plain vegetables, raw or cooked. It's also very good with all but the most delicate fish, where I find it makes a nice flavor bridge to enable a pairing of red wine with fish. And it's got enough substance to match up even to a hearty steak - at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, for instance, you'll find it paired with a grilled short rib.
It's not quite a calçotada, but it's not a bad breafkast either.