Here’s the scene: working-class neighborhood, first house, first back yard, first patio. Radical move against the local pave-the-yard-build-a-grape-arbor esthetic. We christened the patio’s finish by inviting neighbors Pam and Chris to join us for Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco. At the time, almost two decades ago, I’d heard of Romesco, the thick Catalan sauce based on roasted red peppers and nuts, but not grilled spring onions, which my wife assured me were a big deal in Barcelona. She was right. The Calçotada is a month-long Barcelonan lovefest to grilled calçots, spring onions, slathered with Romesco. Imagine a sloppy Falstaffian bender lasting most of April, involving untold quantities of red wine and masses of fragrant grilled onions wrapped in newspapers or mounded in inverted clay roofing tiles and eaten with your hands. Uh-huh, who isn’t down for that?
Staging your own personal Calçotada can be dicey in New England, and not just because the one time of the year when even Brahmins eat with their fingers is still a few months away. The night before we shot this the weatherman was predicting rain with the possibility of snow showers. So much for the boards and sawhorses in the back yard with roofing tile dinnerware. We resigned ourselves to a subdued mini-calçotada prepared on the faithful cast-iron rectangle of our kitchen griddle/grill. From 9 to 10, while I was setting up and photographing the raw ingredients, Jody took advantage of the downtime to grill the vegetables below.
Why? Because she could, because we had them and they needed cooking, and because when push comes to shove there isn’t anything that doesn’t go with Romesco, even when it’s cooked indoors. (Picnic hint: hard-boiled eggs, asparagus, baby artichokes, cold shrimp and Romesco.)
Miraculously, the sun arrived at 10. Quick! Fire up the charwood! We sliced the onions lengthwise in order to reduce the cooking time. We left the roots attached, but trimmed, so the halves held together. If you’re a purist, grill them whole. They’re going to get a lot black on the outside and that’s okay. If they’re a little underdone when you pull them off the grill cover them with a towel or just wrap them in a copy of El Périodico Latino and they’ll finish cooking in a few minutes.
The sun lasted until noon, and by 12:30 it was pouring, but who cared?
Eat with your fingers. Peel or not. Everything is edible. Slather away. Enjoy. Ken
GRILLED SPRING ONIONS
Serves 4 as an appetizer
This recipe makes over a cup of Romesco, enough for you to double, triple or even quadruple the amount of onions, which we’d be inclined to do if we had a raft of people coming over. But even if you don’t, you can use the Romesco on other grilled vegetables, or just about anything at else. It’s particularly good with grilled bluefish, swordfish, tuna or lamb. Although it’s convenient to grill the peppers for the sauce while you’re grilling the onions, Romesco tastes best if it’s had a chance to sit for an hour or so to allow the flavors to meld.
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, stemmed and seeded, sliced (see pics in photo gallery below for detailed view of the steps)
- 1 ancho pepper, soaked in warm water until tender, stemmed and seeded, chopped
- 2 sun dried tomato halves, soaked in warm water until tender, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup almonds, toasted
- 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 pinch hot red pepper flakes, optional (not shown in the ingredients photo)
- 4 bunches large spring onions, there should be about 12
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- To make the Romesco Sauce, put all the ingredients in a food processor, except the olive oil, salt, and hot red pepper flakes. Process to a coarse paste. Season with salt. Add a pinch of hot red pepper flakes if you want it spicier.
- Preheat a grill on high medium high or prepare a medium fire in a grill.
- Trim off the top greens of the onions so each onion is about 8 inches long. Leave the root on, and cut the onions in half lengthwise.
- Season the onions with salt and pepper and toss with olive oil. Cook on both side in a covered grill until charred on the outside and a knife easily penetrates the bulb. Ours took about about 4 minutes per side, but use your knife to check before then.
- Arrange on a platter and serve with Romesco Sauce.
- These can be served hot or at room temperature.
The morning after doing this post I asked Roxanne what she wanted for breakfast. ”Something with that stuff on it. Not bread.” Romesco. I offered asparagus and sweet potatoes but neither enticed her. She just wanted “that stuff,” and settled on a hard boiled egg as the vehicle. I feel the same way and when no one is looking I sometimes take the sneaky-spoon-in-the-peanut-butter approach and just eat it plain. I love Romesco.
I made a few changes to the Romesco recipe we posted last year. I added smoked paprika and sun dried tomatoes. They give it a slightly deeper flavor. Which version do I prefer? That’s like trying to decide between my favorite black cashmere sweaters. The cardigan with the v-neck or the one with the round neck. It just depends on my mood.
Click on something to see the steps with a little more detail. Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.