Monday, February 26, 2007

A Homage To Catal..onions

Taking advantage of the high speed train line that will (eventually) link Madrid and Barcelona, I spent an excellent weekend near to the coastal city of Tarragona. On Saturday we did some fine walking in the hills of Montsant near to the village of Ulldemolins. From the top of Pico Pins Carrasers there are some spectacular, and vertigo inducing, views of the surrounding countryside. In addition we had time yesterday to visit the walled village of Montblanc and see something of the city of Tarragona itself.

However, all this walking and sightseeing was just a facade. The real objective of the visit was to try another seasonal gastronomic experience, the calçotada. The centre of this tradition is the area around Valls, not far from Tarragona. The calçots (shallots) are barbecued, with the outer shell becoming almost completely black, although the inside remains soft and edible. The normal way to eat them is with your hands, removing the completely burnt outer layer, and dipping the rest in a special sauce based on almonds and tomatoes called salvitxada. This can be a bit of a messy process, and we were all issued with paper bibs in the restaurant where we ate, although I thought the provision of disposable plastic gloves was a step too far. Having disposed of dozens of calçots the next course was a platter of buitifarra, chorizo and lamb, when you go for a calçotada it’s best to go hungry. All accompanied by cava and local wine; the surrounding areas produce some of the best wines of Cataluña. As with the cider houses of the Basque Country, now is the season, go after March and it’s all over until the following year. I think I’ll find time to do it again next year.

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