In Catalonia there is an annual ritual called the calçotada, an outdoor barbecue that revolves around local spring onions called calçots. After harvest, the onions, which look like baby leeks, are grilled, then wrapped in newspapers to steam for a bit. They’re served with romesco sauce, the nut-thickened pepper purée that is another regional specialty. For this picnic recipe, I’ve substituted leeks for the spring onions.
FOR THE ROMESCO SAUCE
- 1 medium red pepper
- 6 ounces tomatoes (1 large or 2 roma)
- 1 thick slice (about 1 ounce) baguette or country-style bread, lightly toasted
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
- ¼ cup toasted almonds, or a combination of almonds and skinned roasted hazelnuts
- ½ to 1 teaspoon pure ground chili powder or red pepper flakes, to taste pepper flakes are hotter
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika or Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, as needed
FOR THE LEEKS
- 6 fat leeks, or 12 baby leeks
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground pepper
Make the romesco sauce. Preheat the broiler, and cover a baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatoes and pepper on the baking sheet, and place under the broiler at the highest setting. Broil for two to four minutes until charred on one side. Turn over, and broil on the other side for two to four minutes until charred. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and cover tightly to steam. When cooled completely, peel, core, and seed.
Turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and drop in the garlic cloves. When the garlic is chopped and adheres to the sides of the bowl, stop the machine and scrape down the sides. Add the toasted almonds (or almonds and hazelnuts), bread and chili powder or flakes to the bowl. Process into a paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the pepper, tomatoes, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. With the machine running, add the vinegar and olive oil in a slow stream. Process until well mixed, then scrape into a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt as desired. If possible, allow the sauce to stand for an hour at room temperature before using.
For the Leeks:
Thoroughly wash the leeks and trim the root ends.
Prepare a medium-hot grill. Grill the leeks directly over the flame until completely charred. Remove onto sheets of newspaper, and wrap so that they steam. After leeks have cooled slightly, unwrap from the newspaper, slide off the burnt exterior, and serve with romesco sauce. To be dipped in the sauce and eaten with the hands.