I was in Lunya on Thursday to buy cheese to eat whilst sat down listening to the new and final David Bowie album. I had managed to secure a copy on pristine black vinyl and we were going to give it some proper cogitation. By the corner of the counter there was a whicker basket filled with bunches of calcots held together with black tape – yours at 8 for £2.00. They were too great a temptation so I bought £4.00’s worth.
One of my favourite cookbooks is a book on Catalan Cooking by Colman Andrews. It was first published in 1988 and was then republished in 1997. It was the republishing that brought it to my attention by way of an article that appeared in one of the Sunday papers. The book was given to me as a Christmas present that year and since then it has become suitably tatty and stained. It has in it my favourite recipe for stuffing a turkey which involves sherry and black pudding, a fantastically evocative description of the La Boqueria Market and a half dozen pages given over to the calcot.
A calcot is basically a large leek sized spring onion that has been grown in trenches packed up with earth to blanch the thick bulbous stems. Colman Andrews describes how they are eaten in a festival atmosphere cooked over open flames so the outer layers are charred and blackened. Once cooked they are wrapped in newspapers to steam. To eat you peel of the burnt layers of skin to get to the soft sweet centre, this is then dipped into a pungent sauce and lowered into the mouth. A bib helps.
Back at home I had thought I would have a go cooking my 16 calcots over the BBQ. There is something satisfying in lighting up a BBQ in the dark of January but they strong wind and driving rain meant that it was not a particularly practical option so I had to make to with the grill.
It worked reasonably well although I am not sure they came out as black as they should have been.
The pungent sauce was made with roasted hazelnuts, roasted red peppers, a whole blanched bulb of garlic, a dash of cayenne pepper, a tablespoon of tomato sauce and olive oil. All this was crushed to a satisfying pulp in a heavy pestle and mortar.
We ate it all with fried potatoes, chicken in paprika, lamb chops and chickpeas with spinach. We also had a couple of razor clams which also had to be lowered into the mouth.
Very good it was all too. We listened to Royal Trux and Make Up. Scuzzed up rock’n’soul. Made to be played loud.