Saturday, June 18, 2011

Calcotada Festival

I first saw calcots (cal-sohts), these intriguing spring onions at Barcelona's Mercat de St. Josep, also known as La Boqueria. The way they are grown and eaten is a particular specialty of the region. These onions (allium cepa) were originally grown in the city of Valls, in the province of Tarragona. Planted in the spring, then harvested in summer, the clumps of onions are separated and cellared, replanted in the fall, and then the soil is banked up around the shoots, just like growing white asparagus. This makes for a tender green onion with a thick, tall white neck. The onions are then grilled over a flaming fire, not the steadily glowing coals that are usually used for grilling.

For our Portland Calcotada, chef Scott Ketterman of Simpatica grills the calcots grown by Viridian Farms, using vine clippings from them as well. The exterior of the onion is deeply charred, and then they are served from terra cotta roof tiles with a dipping sauce of romesco or salbitxada, made from chiles, almonds, garlic and tomato.

To eat this messy delicacy, hold the onion up by the green tops and peel downward toward the root, wiping away all the charred exterior. Dip the tender, steamed white into the sauce and slurp them down with your favorite Spanish wines. Our celebration included drinking from the festive porron, a wine pitcher designed for pouring wine directly into your mouth, grilled butifarra sausages, and mongetes (Catalan white beans). We happened to be sitting next to some enthusiastic Catalonian's that made it feel all the more like we were in Spain for a day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Green Strawberries

What is the idea behind using unripe strawberries, you might ask? Indeed, that is the question my farmers were asking two years ago, when I first started asking them to pick their strawberries after they had fully grown, but before they could ripen into the familiar blushed red jewels so widely known and loved. I first asked Leslie of Viridian Farms, and Dave of Creative Growers. Dave said, "What the hell do you want that for?" Not entirely sure myself, I answered, "Think of it as an early gooseberry."

Guided by the beloved tradition of using green tomatoes at the end of the season, and making verjus from the unfermented juice of unripe grapes, it seemed to me there must be some virtue to unripe strawberries in the days leading up to the summer solstice.

Last year, the green strawberries were glazed in a piquant gastrique and served with duck breast, toasted buckwheat, rhubarb and chard. This year, they are gently poached and pickled, and accompany a chilled salad of squid with raw kolrabi and agretti (a crunchy green plant of Italian origin). The salad is dressed with lemon, buttermilk and arugula oil. It is a nice mosaic of green and white, with textures both crisp and supple. Come try it soon, as green strawberries don't stay green for long.