Text: BJ Adler
When our son Danny was an exchange student in Barcelona back in 2007, he introduced us to the festive and fun early spring calçotada feasts that happen throughout Catalunya when the wintered-over calçots (a type of leek-like onion) first become available each year. Now that Danny is with Spanish Trails, he often prepares and organizes these special feasts in fantastic, outdoor Catalan settings.
Though I was not able to be in Cataluyna for this spring’s calçotada season, I was able to take part in the Manhattan version this past Sunday! New York chef Peter Hoffman has been a pioneer of the slow foods movement with his Savoy and Back Forty Restaurants. We became “food buddies” when he helped me organize business dinners at his old Savoy Restaurant. Peter’s love of locavore (one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible), however, did not hinder his interest in cuisines of the world. One of his favorite international cuisines is Catalan! Each year when the upstate New York local ramps (New York’s closest relative to Catalan calçots!) are available (generally mid-May), you can find Peter and his crew with a grill set up on Cosby Street outside of his Back Forty West restaurant roasting ramps, lamb and butifarra sausages for the annual Manhattan calçotada feast. If I close my eyes to make the SoHo iron façade buildings disappear and breathe in the savory aroma from the grill, I am transported to a country-side, open fire in the heart of Cataluyna!
The restaurant is closed for the night and an eager crowd of pre-reserved calçotada enthusiasts lines up around the grill to try their hand at drinking Catalan rosé from the porrón. Our fingers grow sticky from downing warm, roasted ramps dipped in savory romesco sauce. We eventually drift inside the restaurant to join communal tables for the remainder of the feast which includes fresh broccoli rabe, white beans, butifarra and roasted lamb. The rosé from the porrón continues to flow!
New friendships are made at the communal tables and old ones rekindled. I took my lovely bride-to-be goddaughter, Emma from Chicago and we delighted in the great food, good company and live gypsy guitar. The feast is topped off with a creamy, crema Catalana with Hoffman’s signature caramelized, crunchy sugar topping made by placing a hot, metal brand from the fire onto the sugar topping of the crema Catalana!