I anticipate this post causing some controversy. I imagine my Spanish readers saying “what’s the point? Just use calçots … and that sauce ain’t right”. Well this post is not for you, privileged ones who know and love the yearly tradition of the calçotada.
This post is for the select few who have travelled to Barcelona at just the right time of year to enjoy these sweet, tender, smoky green onions and then had to return to their dull, sad, tender onion-free existence in whatever country you came from. Tears and violins.
No more! Here’s the solution for you: leeks! Yay!
Let’s back up and explain a little about the calçotada for the uninitiated. Calçots are a type of onion, bigger than a green onion but smaller than a leek, which are in season at the end of winter. They’re put on the barbeque until charred, wrapped in newspaper to steam and cool, then you slip the charred outer layer off with your hands and dip them in a special sauce.
Basically, it’s a huge mess. Your hands turn black and the sauce drips down your chin. But it’s a great excuse to get together with friends and drink a lot (like we needed another excuse).
Here’s a terribly unfocused picture of a real calçotada from our trip to La Rioja last spring:
Although calçots aren’t readily available in other countries or in the summer, it turns out that leeks make a great substitute and you can roast them in the oven with basically the same flavour as a barbequed calçot.
The first time I tried calçots I thought they were good, but it was really the sauce that gave made them so interesting. So what’s up with the sauce? Generically it’s known as romesco sauce, but I was informed by my Catalan husband (repeatedly and annoyingly) that it’s not exactly the same as salsa calçots. Although from my research, they both have exactly the same ingredients.
The difference would be that salsa calçots is a little thinner in order to dip more easily. The sauce recipe I’ve got below is a basic romesco, which you can adjust to the consistency that you like with more or less oil.
Apparently my husband thought the romesco sauce was good as he was eating it by the spoonful in the kitchen while I was taking these pictures. He also conceded that the leeks were not super sacrilegious so, Spanish people, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
- 6 - 8 leeks
- 2 tomatoes
- Half a head plus one clove of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil plus two tablespoons for the tomatoes
- 1 slice of white stale bread
- 2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
- 1 dried ñora peppers (These are the traditional peppers used to make romesco. If you don´t have them, I’ve seen recipes calling for 1 dried ancho chili. In fact, any dried, not spicy red chili pepper will do. It’s important that it’s not spicy, this sauce is not spicy at all.)
- 35 grams (1.25 oz) raw almonds without skin
- 35 grams (1.25 oz) raw hazelnuts (I left the skin on because I’m lazy)
- Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato and place them, along with the half head of garlic, in an oven-safe dish. Drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil over the garlic and tomatoes and roast for 60 - 90 minutes until the skin is beginning to blacken but not burn totally. Remove and let cool.
- While the tomatoes are roasting, soak the dried chili peppers in warm water until soft. Once soft, use a spoon or knife to scrape off the pulp and discard the skin and seeds.
- Toast the almonds and hazelnuts in a pan over medium heat.
- Cut most of the green part off the leeks and put them in the oven to roast. You want them to blacken on the outside and you may need to turn them over once during roasting to ensure even blackening.
- Once the tomatoes and garlic are cool enough to handle, peel both and put them into a blender or food processor along with the salt. Blend while adding 1/3 cup of oil in a thin stream. Wet the bread with the vinegar and add it to the blender along with one clove of raw garlic and the chili pepper pulp. Finally, add the almonds and hazelnuts and blend. Don’t over-blend as the sauce should be chunky. Taste and adjust salt and vinegar to your liking. It should be a bit tangy. If you want the sauce a bit thinner, add more oil.
- Once then leeks are blackened in parts on the outside, remove them from the oven and wrap in newspaper to steam and cool slightly. To serve, slip the blackened outer layer off the leeks and cut them in half. Pick them up with your hands or cut them into bit-sized pieces and dip them into the romesco sauce.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 2 leeks
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 380Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 370mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 6gSugar: 8gProtein: 7g