Photo by juanvvc/Flickr CC
Alas, I'm writing this when the season for calçots is recently over, and I can't include beautiful photos of the calçotada, a festive moment in which friends and family and passersby stand around an open grill, dribbling delicious juices on themselves as they slide these pale onion sprouts out of their charred skins. But I can tell you about the calçot, and share a recipe for the romescu sauce that usually accompanies it.
A few years ago a friend in the U.S. asked me to bring him seeds for calçots, as some homesick Catalan clients of his farm stall had requested them. Despite the ubiquity of the calçot in all of Catalonia, Spain, there were no calçot seeds to be found. A short-lived mystery: as anyone can tell you, "calçot" comes from the verb "to shoe or to bolster," and therein lies the secret to these incredibly sweet early spring onions.
They are normal white onions that have sprouted, are replanted in the autumn and, as they grow, are shored up or "shod" with soil. Thus the white and tender part of the onion is unusually long, and the initial bulb divides into as many as 10 little bulbs. Between January and April these little bulbs are collected, separated, and thrown onto the grill, dirt and all. When the outside part is totally charred and juices bubble up through it, it is stripped off with a deft gesture, and--while still scalding hot--the onion is dipped in romescu sauce and joyfully consumed.