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Read about a visit to farmers markets in Catalonia, including a roadside calcot stand 


Roasting Calcots

Eating Calcots

A Nutty, Garlicky, Versatile
Sauce from Catalonia

One of the most celebrated vegetables during the winter months in Catalonia, the Mediterranean coastal province of northern Spain, is a unique variety of onion called the calcot (pronounced cal-SOTE). Towns throughout the region hold festivals called calcotadas, featuring the mild green onions roasted over fires, dipped in romescu (or, in English, romesco sauce), and eaten by the dozens. 

There is no need to wash off the dirt before they are roasted because they aren't ready to eat until the outer layers of the onion are completely blackened by the fire. After they have cooled enough to handle, you grasp the roots with one hand, tug on the green top with the other, and out slips the cooked onion, so tender that it will melt in your mouth. But how do you get the long, limp onion into your mouth, you might wonder? By leaning back, opening your mouth wide, suspending the onion high above your head and lowering into your gullet -- after dipping into romesco sauce, of course. It is a ritual that is best performed while wearing a bib. But it's certain to be a bit messy anyway, which is all part of the fun.

Romesco sauce originated in the coastal Catalan city of Tarragona. There are innumerable variations of the versatile sauce, which can be used with just about any vegetable, meat or fish that's grilled, or as a pasta sauce or as spread with bread.

The romescu recipe below is from Susan Branyas, a long-time resident of Barcelona. Susan's recipe calls for dried nyores peppers, a sweet Catalan variety that resemble large, plump pimento peppers. A romesco sauce recipe from Fine Cooking magazine uses one moderately hot ancho chile instead. Yet another recipe, simpler and less authentic, uses paprika. I've stuck with nyores peppers in the recipe below, though if you're not planning on passing by a market in Catalonia anytime soon, you'll probably have to find a replacement. Any other mild, dried red pepper variety should serve the purpose.

Romesco Sauce

5 dried sweet red nyores peppers (or other mild, dried chili pepper)
4 large tomatoes, roasted and skinned
10 cloves garlic, roasted
1 large slice french bread
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup vinegar
1 dried hot red pepper (optional)
anisette liqueur (optional)

1. Toast raw almonds and hazelnuts, then place in water for several hours to soften skin. Slip off skins and place nuts in food processor.

2. Heat olive oil. Place hot red pepper in oil for 15 seconds and remove pepper. Place bread in oil and fry for 1 minute. Remove olive oil and bread from heat, allow to cool, then  place in food processor.

3. Soak dried peppers in hot water until flesh can be scraped from skins. Add pulp to food processor along with vinegar and oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic.

4. Process until smooth, adding salt and pepper to taste, and a shot of anisette, if desired.

Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef