I love it when February comes around because its means it’s time for my very favourite food festival on earth: the calçotada. True enough these spring onion-leek hybrids start showing up on menus from November, but it’s February that they really come into their own, when they’re plump and juicy after months spent under piles of earth, ensuring a sweet and sugary flesh, and glossy white stems. Now, if you’re feeling inspired by our DIY calçotada, you can stock up, light the barbecue and cook up a storm. But if that all sounds too much like hard work, join the masses in a vital ritual of Barcelona’s early spring culture, and head to Collserola to indulge in a Sunday lunchtime feast at one of the many masia restaurants scattered amidst the hills.
I always combine my calçotada with a good long walk—to build up an appetite, there are literally rivers of food at these things—and despite years of trying other places, I always come back to Masia Can Borrell. This sprawling farmhouse with so many rooms and annexes, terracotta-tiled floors, wooden beams and the kind of cheery service that reminds you why you moved to the Mediterranean in the first place, is beloved by seemingly everyone—on my last visit, every spare inch was crammed with people downing these delicious specimens like little birds throwing back worms, and the queues of folk waiting to get in were out the door. But that’s just as it should be. You need this sort-of rustic cantina atmosphere, where people are seemingly piled on top of each other, to get that sense of belonging to a place that is like no other.
Obviously, this is not a lunch to dress up for. I have a special calçotada t-shirt for the job, because, although the good folks at Masia Can Borrell give out paper bibs (wear one) and plastic gloves (don’t), part of the fun is rolling up your sleeves to strip back the blackened skins of the onions and get into a glorious mess. This is not something to attempt with a knife and fork, it’s visceral, hand-held food that is solid, unpretentious and satisfying. Once you’ve eaten your fill of these (about 12 should do it) dipped in a thick calçotada sauce, it’s onto monget beans (pinky nail-sized and creamy) topped with the saltiest cansalada (a superior pork scratching), and platters of succulent grilled meat: rabbit, chicken, lamb, botifarra and blood sausage with lashings of aioli strong enough to make your eyes water, all washed down with porrons of a fruity red. The only thing that lets the place down are the desserts, which for the most part are industrially made and not particularly pleasant, though frankly at this stage you probably won’t want them anyway, and the bottles of orujo and hierbas left on the table for you to knock back with wild abandon help anything go down. A long walk back to the station in Sant Cugat and I promise all will be right with your world. ¡Viva la calçotada!