A calçotada can be a social gathering of any size, in the back garden of a family home or in the streets of a major city. My dad organised one in honour of my last visit to Catalonia; he grows the calçots himself and had two crates of the elongated onions to share. They are the perfect thing to enjoy outdoors, and it’s great to be out in the winter sun even when it’s cold, huddled around a fire in anticipation for the feast to come. But while calçotades can come in all forms, there is only one way to eat the calçots themselves.
Catalans love cooking on large, open fires, as it’s a very social activity and we love being outdoors – just think of the huge pans used to cook one of Spain’s most famous dishes, paella. Cooking calçots is no different; we place large numbers of whole onions over the fire and let them char, blacken and cook through, before wrapping them in newspaper and keeping them warm on terracotta tiles. Once they’re cool enough to handle, the onions are unwrapped and peeled, removing the charred skin to reveal the soft, smoky and sweet flesh within. Peeling calçots is trickier than it sounds; you need to pull the skin off from top to bottom in one piece. It can get pretty messy, leaving you with black fingernails for days afterwards – if you don’t need to wash your hands at least three times after eating calçots, then you haven’t been doing it properly!