Larger and more mild than your typical green onion, the Catalan calçot is no mere garnish. It’s a star attraction in its native Catalonia. So much so that festivals are held to eat calçot as the main course.
Calçots were supposedly developed in the northeastern region of Spain by a peasant farmer around the turn of the 20th century. He continually pushed soil over the sprouting white onion bulbs, causing a larger portion of the plant (about six to ten inches) to stay white and sweet. That’s still how calçots are grown today.
The beginning of calçot season is marked each winter by the calçotada, a festival that is essentially a cookout dedicated to savoring calçots. The event can be a private affair among friends and family or a town-wide celebration. Rural Catalan farmhouses called masias were the initial gathering places of calçot-loving Catalonians. Many have since become restaurants, and they’re still popular places to attend a calçotada.
Valls, a town near Barcelona, is the epicenter of calçotada season. From December to April, calçots are consumed in mass quantities, and in January, the town hosts the Gran Festa de la Calçotada.
At calçotadas, calçots are piled on a grill fueled by grapevine branches—which lend a particular flavor—and charred before being wrapped in newspaper to steam. Attendees generally wear bibs, as people eat hand over hand, only pausing to peel their calçots and dip them in a romesco sauce before lowering them into their mouths.
Barcelona, the largest city in Catalonia, has a reputation as a party city, and that same spirit is evident at calçotadas throughout Catalonia. They are lively affairs. Additional courses feature grilled meats and artichokes. But wine, served from a pitcher called a porron, is mandatory. Porrons look a bit like watering cans, and skilled imbibers pour the wine into their mouths from a distance. If they miss, there’s always the bib.