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FOOD & DRINK

Recipe: How to make, eat and enjoy calçots

Calçots are a seasonal vegetable similar to leeks or spring onions grown in the area surrounding Barcelona and Tarragona. They are normally available from January until April and by far the best way to try them is cooked on a barbecue accompanied by Romesco sauce, local wine and a group of friends.

Recipe: How to make, eat and enjoy calçots
Calçots are a seasonal treat. Photo: Gerard Romans Camps / Flickr

If you are in Catalonia and want to enjoy your very own calçotada but don’t have access to your own barbecue, don’t worry. 

Photo: Silvia Martin / Flickr

Luckily there are places to find “merenderos” (picnic areas) close to the city as well as vineyards which have barbecues set up. They supply the barbecue, firewood and tables and you just bring what you want to eat and drink (in the case of the wineries, you are expected to buy their wine).

READ ALSO:  Eight steps to dining out like a local in Spain

Calçots Recipe:

Preparing Calçots couldn’t be easier. There’s no need to clean them or cut the roots off, simply place them on the barbecue as shown above. Unlike meat and other vegetables which cook best over hot embers, calçots should be cooked while there are still flames. After about five minutes you will see bubbles of juice escaping through the  blackened outer leaves signalling  that the calçots are cooked. Wrap them in newspaper and carry them to the table.

Romesco Sauce Recipe:

Romesco sauce is available in pretty much all greengrocers and supermarkets in Barcelona. However, if you have time and are staying in an apartment with a kitchen it’s easy to prepare your own. Here’s my personal recipe for Romesco sauce which I’ve adapted from a few recipes I found on the web.


The Ingredients for Romesco Sauce. Photo: Barcelonalowdown.com

Ingredients

  • 6 ripe tomatoes
  • 1  mug (250g) of roasted peeled almonds
  • 1/2 mug (125g) of roasted peeled hazelnuts
  • 5 dried ñoras
  • 1 whole garlic
  • 1 small slice of toast (3 slices if you’re using a baguette)
  • 2 teaspoons of Jerez vinegar
  • A glass and a half of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Wrap the whole garlic in foil with a little olive oil and roast it in the oven along with the tomatoes. There’s no need to wrap the tomatoes in foil, just drizzle a little oil over them and lightly oil the baking tray to stop them from sticking.

The garlic takes about 45 minutes to cook, the tomatoes 20 to 25 minutes. Note: The ñoras which you can buy in greengrocers or supermarkets in Barcelona are dried and if you try to roast them they burn. I have found that it is best to use them raw.

Peel and finely chop the almonds and hazelnuts.

Wipe the ñoras clean with dry kitchen paper, remove the stem and seeds and tear them into strips. If you are making the sauce at home and can’t get ñoras you can use a dried red pepper or failing that a spoonful of cayenne pepper instead.

Wet the toast with the vinegar and cut it up.

Peel the garlic into a mixing bowl or blender- I find the best way is to just squeeze each of the cloves as if it was a tube of toothpaste.

Add the roasted tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients except for the oil and chop finely with a mixer or blender.

Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Add the oil a little at a time and mix in slowly with a wooden spoon. It takes several minutes to blend the full quantity of oil.

The recipe makes approximately a pint and a half of Romesco sauce, enough for  8 to 10 people. It tastes even better after 24 hours in the fridge.

How to Eat Calçots

The traditional way to eat calçots is to peel off the blackened outer layer, dip the inner part in romesco sauce. Lift the calçot above your head so it hangs down vertically, tip your head back and lower the calçot into your mouth. Be warned this is a pretty messy business!

Photo: Danigonzalez / Flickr

This recipe was contribured by Barcelona Lowdown, a blog about all things Barcelona.

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FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

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