Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Green onions

Freshly dug onions have a subtle flavour and a delightful crunchy texture. They need very little help to become something rather special. I try to save some to hang up and dry but I usually end up eating most of them within a week or two of harvest. If you haven't grown your own now is a good time to look out for them in farmer's markets and good green grocers.

When washed and sliced along with some of their greens and some good strong cheddar green onions make a traditional sandwich filling that is hard to improve on.

In a fresh green salad they can be chopped finely and added to a bowl of salad leaves and fines herbes, then dressed with a lemon and oil vinaigrette. 

My favourite way is to eat them sliced x-ray thin over a sliced tomato, seasoned and anointed with olive oil and a little sherry vinegar from Jerez. Simplicity can be very hard to beat sometimes. 

Chibolling like the Catalans.......

This year I have also saved some onions to chibol and turn into calcots. This is something they do in Catalonia. The onions are lifted in June or July, their greens are trimmed and they are stored in the dark. Once they have been allowed to germinate they are replanted in September  in a trench. Several shoots (6 to 8) appear and as they appear they are earthed up, this blanches the stem  (the same as with leeks). 

According to Irving Davis, in his book of Catalan Cookery, the word "calçots comes from calçar (chausser), to put on one’s shoes, boots, stockings".

Early in the year, once they have reached the size of a large leek, the calcots are dug up again, trimmed and roasted as part of a festival to celebrate the end of winter. The calcots are roasted over coals on enormous bed-sized grills in town squares. They are thoroughly charred on the outside but only the tender inside is eaten. These are traditionally eaten with a sauce of pounded hazlenuts or almonds. Eating them is a messy business but apparently a very tasty one and I am looking forward to bringing a little bit of Catalonia to E9 next spring. 

This is Davis' recipe for the sauce (serves 2), my own to follow in 2010:

Two ounces of grilled almonds, two cloves of garlic (the head of garlic grilled on the woodfire), one clove of garlic not grilled, a pinch of red pepper, a little parsley, a little mint, salt, one grilled tomato skinned, vinegar if you like it and oil.  

Pound all this in a mortar or a large pot beginning with the almonds and finally bind it with oil. The sauce should never be thick. Now dip the onion shoots in this sauce.  

This is a pre-spring dish eaten only in the neighbourhood of Valls, in the open air under the almond trees in bloom. If it snows so much the better. This is only part of the feast, followed by roast chickens, mutton cutlets, every kind of sausage and of course plenty of wine drunk from the porró.

Davis' excellent book,  A Collection of Impossible Recipes, is available from Prospect Books.



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