Nature provides certain foods for us at the most appropriate time of the year. Consider citrus fruit: oranges and lemons are abundant in Mallorca at this time of the year – when we most need a good dose of Vitamin C. And in the cooler months in Mallorca, when a fire or BBQ makes being outdoors cosier, the calçot season arrives.
What are Calçots?
Resembling slightly unkempt leeks, calçots are green onions but (with apologies to Star Trek) not as we know them, Jim. From planting seed onions to harvesting calçots takes around eighteen months, because the growth period is interrupted for a while.
Usually planted in autumn, they are harvested the following early summer and stored until late summer, when they’re trimmed and replanted.
As in the method for growing celery, the calçots are then ‘earthed up’, as though wearing shoes, to encourage growth. And that’s where the name comes from: the Catalan word for a shoe is the similar calçat.
When harvested in the early months of the year, most of the length of the calçots has become white and the flavour is much milder and sweeter than onions or spring onions (or scallions).
The calçot originated in the province of Tarragona in Catalunya and has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status. There, the city of Valls is famous for its Gran Festa de la Calçotada, which takes place on the last Sunday in January every year. As I write this, the day after the 2023 event, I imagine the cleaning up in Valls will take some time.
What Happens at a Calçotada?
A calçotada is when people gather to cook and eat calçots together. Traditionally, calçots are cooked until blackened over a fire of vine cuttings, then wrapped tightly in newspaper and allowed to steam, which loosens the burnt skins to reveal the tender heart of the vegetable.
Eating calçots is a fun and sociable, but messy business, especially as they are dipped in a spicy, nut sauce before they are eaten. Don’t wear your best clothes if you’re going to a calçotada – unless you’re looking for an excuse to buy some new ones.
Salsa per Calçots is available in jars in food shops and supermarkets, but it’s not difficult to make your own.
By the way, if you’re worried that eating only calçots won’t satisfy your appetite, they’re usually followed by a meat dish.
Calçots in Mallorca
You don’t have to travel to the Peninsula to enjoy calçots or, indeed, a calçotada. At this time of year, you’ll find them in Mallorca – although, depending where you buy your vegetables, you may have to place an order for them.
Local food-store chain Agromart Balear has more than 20 stores in Mallorca and if they don’t have calçots in stock will order them for you. My photo above was taken in the Manacor store.
If you’d rather someone else did the cooking, some restaurants offer calçots at this time of year and a Google search should reveal these. The best calçotades though are probably the simple ones enjoyed with friends at a rustic finca in Mallorca. Time to fire up the BBQ?
©Jan Edwards 2023