It looks like a cross between a spring onion and a leek, but it’s neither. The calçot is an onion, but one that is stored after harvesting until it sprouts, then replanted at the end of summer and harvested in mid-winter. From the beginning of January you will see large bunches of these welsh onions appearing in greengrocers all over Catalonia. But just as Hollandse Nieuwe is at its best a month after Flag Day, calçots peak in February.

Who says calçots, says calçotada, the barbecue party that the Catalans traditionally build around it. The onions are roasted over a vine fire, or over hot coals, until they are completely black on the outside. At the table, you pull the soft, sweet, white interior of the calçot out of its charred shell, drag it through a special sauce and eat it like a herring. (It’s not for nothing that restaurants give you a bib when you order calçots.)

That sauce, called romesco, is a thick, creamy emulsion of roasted tomatoes and garlic, hazelnuts and almonds. Whatever should be in it ñorasun-dried peppers that have to be soaked in lukewarm water, after which you scrape the deep red flesh from the skin with a spoon. Ñoras can be ordered at online delicacy stores (and have a long shelf life, and are useful in many Spanish dishes), but because of the accessibility, I have replaced them in the recipe below with a mix of ‘normal’ paprika and smoked paprika or pimentón.

Are we going to have a calçotada then? Well, I really shouldn’t call it that of course, without real calçots. But what can be done with those spring onions, is also delicious with ordinary leeks. In Spain, by the way, a calçotada is an all-you-can-eat grilling event, in which large quantities of meat and fish are placed on the grill after the calçots. So a midwinter barbecue. What do you notice?

Calçotada

(for 6 people)

4 medium tomatoes; 1 whole bulb of garlic + 1 clove; 1 old white slice of bread; 5 – 7 tbsp red wine vinegar; 100 g of almonds; 80 g of hazelnuts; 1 tsp (sweet) paprika powder; ½ tsp smoked paprika (pimentón); 250 ml olive oil; 12 leeks that are not too thin, rinsed clean of sand.

Heat the oven at 200 degrees. Place the garlic bulb and tomatoes in a bowl and slide into the oven.

Haal Remove the tomatoes from the oven after 20 – 25 minutes and let them cool. Let the garlic roast for another 15 minutes.

sprinkle the bread with 5 tablespoons of vinegar and let it stand. Peel the tomatoes and pop the garlic out of its skin. Finely grind the almonds and hazelnuts in the food processor.

joint Add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, the raw garlic, the paprika and the soaked slice of bread to the ground nuts and mash. While the machine is running, pour in the olive oil until a thick sauce forms.

Trial and season the romesco with salt, pepper and extra vinegar if necessary. (The sauce needs quite a bit of acid, otherwise it will become too bulky.)

make Switch on the barbecue and place the leeks whole on the grid. Let them blister on all sides, the outer leaf may even be a little charred. Before eating them, peel off the outer layers until you are left with only the soft inside.

serve with romesco. (This recipe gives about half a liter of sauce. If you have any leftovers: the sauce freezes well.)