When we got out of the car, the smell of woodfire and barbecue welcomed us. The sky was blue without any visible cloud, and the sun was warm for a February day. The source of the barbecue smell was the restaurant we were heading to for lunch. We were in the hills that surround Barcelona and about to have some very traditional Catalan food. Entering the restaurant, a large table at the window overseeing the hills and valley was waiting for us. After the whole group had arrived and everyone had been served a glass of wine, beer or red vermouth, the first course came; the reason for the barbecue and for bringing our group and many other people to a restaurant in the hills on a Saturday afternoon. We were doing a Calçotada, a Catalan tradition of getting together and eating calçots. Calçots are a special type of thick spring onions, which are roasted over the fire until the outside is black. They are served with romesco sauce, a very tasty sauce made of tomatoes, red peppers and almonds. To eat them, you peel away the burned outer leaves, dip the onions in romesco sauce and enjoy. In our case, the calçots were as per tradition served on rooftiles and with the quintessential Catalan bread with tomato and olive oil on the side. It’s not the easiest thing to eat, your hands get black and you are advised to cover yourself with a napkin to avoid getting your clothes completely dirty.
After the calçots, a rice dish and dessert followed. Most of us walked back down through the hills to Barcelona after this lunch. We had one more drink on the terrace of a small bar, before everyone dispersed in different directions. As I had not had calçots in a very long time and also had not seen a lot of the people for a long time, this was a great way to spend an afternoon of my 48 hours in Barcelona. And also probably one of the most traditional ways to spend an early spring day in Catalunya.
Surely, I have no idea when the next time will be that I will have a Calçotada. But the tradition did inspire me when I was thinking what kind of dish to cook next. As the right onions are not as easy to find everywhere, I opted for leek instead.
Leek and roasted tomato risotto
Of course, a good stock is the basis for any good risotto, so preferably use a home-made stock or otherwise a very good quality bought one. I usually measure my rice to stock ratio in cups, and as standard measure use a rice to stock ratio of one to three. So three cups of liquid for any cup of rice.
Ingredients (for 2 portions)
⦁ Risotto rice – 140 grams
⦁ Vegetable or chicken stock – 450 ml
⦁ White wine – a small glass
⦁ 2 leeks
⦁ Cherry tomatoes – at least 12
⦁ Olive oil
⦁ Butter – 20 grams
⦁ Parmesan cheese, grated – 50 grams
⦁ Roasted sunflower seeds – a handful
⦁ Black pepper
Warm your stock and leave it on a low fire so that it stays warm during the cooking process. Start by peeling the outer leaves of the leeks and slicing them in the length in halves. Wash them well, as often there is some soil in between the leaves. Chop the white stalks in large chunks of around 3 cm in length. Very finely slice the light green parts of the tops of the leeks. In a large pot, warm some olive oil over a medium fire and add the finely chopped leek. Let this fry for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened. Season with a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Add the rice to the pot and stir well, let the rice toast for a minute. Then, add the white wine. Keep the fire medium to low, so that the liquid is just bubbling. Once most of the wine has evaporated, add a pinch of saffron and add a ladle of stock as well. Carefully stir the rice and add a new ladle of stock every time once the previous one has almost evaporated. Continue with this process till you have used the stock and the rice is almost cooked, around 20 minutes. Depending on how salty your stock is, you might need to add some additional salt.
Meanwhile, warm a good lug of olive oil in a frying pan over a low fire. Place the white parts of the leek in the pan, with the cut side down. Cook for about 10 minutes. Then, carefully turn the leeks to the other side. The cut side should by now be caramelized and golden brown. Season with salt and black pepper. Cover them with a lid or some foil, and leave on the other side to cook for around 8 minutes on a very low fire. After this time, try a little piece: the leeks should have completely cooked through and be soft.
For the roasted tomatoes, place the tomatoes in a roasting tray and add some olive oil and salt. Place under the grill in the oven for around 15 minutes, on 200°C.
Finally, once the rice is cooked, turn the fire off and add most of the grated cheese – keep some for serving – and the butter. Stir this through, cover the pot, and let the risotto rest for some 5 minutes. After this time, stir once again and taste to check on the seasoning. The risotto should not be dry, but still be oozing without being a soup.
Serve the risotto with the caramelized leek and the roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese and the sunflower seeds over the dish before serving.