I feel like welcoming the spring in a big way this year. We had a wet, cool winter here in Los Angeles. I am ready for the resurrection of the season. Maypoles and Easter bonnets are swell, but they are not going to be enough this year. I need to welcome spring with something edible.
In Spain, springtime is welcomed with a calçotada, the annual flame-licked ritual of grilling calçots, a sort of sweet, tender spring onion, over an open fire. It’s a very special food event in Catalonia and whole towns gather in the public square to devour these sweet alliums. They are similar to leeks or spring onions and are served blackened from the ashes of vine fed flames. The revelers pluck the hot charred onions from the ashes and slide off the sooty outside layers before slipping the silken centers, and smoke-tinged leaves down their throats. Watch this video from InfoCatalan to see an authentic calçotada.
If you are ever offered the opportunity to join in on a calçotada, my advice is– jump at the chance. Get on a plane, drive like a lunatic, or walk if you have to. Because a true calçot is as sweet as a Maui onion, with an herbal flavor similar to ramps. But what makes them so special is the slightly bitter earthiness from the smoke and char of a wood burning fire.
And as if these onions and their fire-fumed preparation weren’t enough to make a true calçotada a life-altering experience, then I should mention that these spring onions are served with an equally compelling, slightly pungent, romesco sauce.
Have you had a really good romesco sauce? It’s a true transformation of simple ingredients: garlic, nuts, tomatoes, peppers, olive oil, and vinegar. Sometimes bread is added for texture, but mine version is thickened with hard-boiled eggs.
Although you can’t get true calçots where I live, baby leeks or sweet spring onions are marvelous substitutes. Because why should the Catalans have all the merry mayhem that ensues when food finds flame, and finally ignites the spring?
Grilled Leeks with Romesco (calçotada)
serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 32 clv garlic, peeled and left whole
- 1⁄2 lb plum tomatoes, left whole
- 1 c plus 6 t olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1⁄4 c red wine vinegar
- 2 dried Nora chilis– cores, stems and seeds removed
- 24 blanched almonds
- 24 blanched hazelnuts
- 1 t sea salt
- 1 hard-boiled egg, roughly chopped
- 1 pn cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 t Spanish pimenton powder
- 12 baby leeks
- kosher salt as needed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the garlic and tomatoes in a roasting pan, then roast in the oven 30 minutes, until the garlic is softened and lightly brown. Transfer the garlic and tomatoes to a saucepan and add the oil, vinegar, and noras. Simmer on very, very low heat, stirring occasionally. The oil should barely bubble and form a clear ring around the vegetables. Simmer this way about 1 1/2 hours.
Raise the heat in the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the almond and hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast them slightly, about 4 minutes. Transfer the warm nuts to a food processor and grind to a sandy consistency. Add the nuts and salt to the garlic and tomatoes and let them cook with the vegetables for the last half hour of their total cooking time.
Let the tomato mixture cool slightly, and then scrape it along with the hard-boiled egg, cayenne, and pimento into the food processor. Process until very smooth. Adjust consistency with more olive oil drizzled in as the machine whirls as needed.
Prepare a moderate charcoal fire for indirect grilling. Slice the leeks in half (quarters if they are very large). Do not trim the root end so that they stay intact during grilling. Carefully rinse the leeks of any grit between the layers. Dry thoroughly.
Pour the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roll the leeks in the oil, getting them well coated; season with kosher salt.
Place the leeks over indirect heat; cover the grill and cook, turning occasionally for good coloring until soft and nicely charred. You may need to move them to direct heat in the last few minutes to get the amount of char you like. Serve hot with the romesco sauce on the side, or drizzled on top.
Dried nora chiles may be ordered online at www.latienda.com or you may substitute dried New Mexican chilis.
How did this wonderful geeky post sneak past me??? I noticed a jump in traffic at my site, too. Now I have to research if it was March 25th or what I have learned at Camp Blogaway! I get lost in my analytics trying to analyze it and learn from what I see. Now I have to do some Panda research. As always, you bring up interesting topics besides food. Keep up the geek-talk. We all hate it, but need to learn from it!
First the recipe meta tag thing and now Panda, Google is irritating me.
I use analytics but don’t know the ins and outs of it. I need to take a class in how to get the most out of it.
but sadly haven’t a clue about the Panda issue. I’ve noticed a drop in my traffic as well, even though I’m a much smaller fish than you. I’ll have to do a little research myself, I’ll let you know if I learn anything of note. — S
Holy hell, this makes my brain hurt. I didn’t even know about Alexa ranking .. . Hmmm, I need to look into all of this, but I am really glad about anything that bumps fake stupid content sites like eHow below me!
both your recipe for linguine and your comments on Google Panda have captured my attention.
Thanks for both!
I love when you Geek out! Now off to figure out how to find my Alexa rating.… 😐
Your bring up some interesting points. I haven’t been following all the SEO stuff lately and haven’t even looked at my site stats in months. I suppose I should 🙂 Your spring dinner looks lovely, I need to make this Norwegian cake, pretty soon we’ll be getting in a mood for our Scandinavian summer vacation.
Oh Greg, I’ve missed your geekiness and photography and recipes. Happy to have stopped by and caught up. I’ll try not to be such a stranger. Cheers, J
You geek out over dual carburetors? Oy!
Ugh. Everytime I try to figure out SEO stuff it just seems to frustrating to me and not worth it. I feel like the more time I think about that stuff the less I spend doing what I actually like — cooking & writing. I’m sure though that a lot of cooking/recipe blogs will be in the same boat because it’s inherently different content. Yes, some people will be repeat visitors, but many are just looking for that illusive recipe for something specific.
I hate that bounce rate evaluates the “importance” of your site. I get a lot of search engine traffic because my blog is mainly a recipe blog. And people search for recipes — for crockpot barbecue pulled pork, or rhubarb crumble, or nesselrode pie — and they find my blog, and they use the recipe (my time on site is pretty decent) and read the post, and then they close the browser because THEY’RE GOING TO GO COOK NOW (which is a mission of my site), not fart around on the web looking at other recipes that they’re not looking for right now. So my bounce rate is pretty consistently “bad”, but is also an artificial measure of usefulness or success when the information is easy to find.
Sorry, I get awfully steamed up about “universal” determinations of anything. What is relevant for my readers is not necessarily what is relevant for readers of cnn.com. Or dooce. Or even Sippity Sup.
I read about the Google algorithm changing but I hadn’t considered how much it could potentially impact the traffic on my own blog. Now I’m curious. Good points to ponder.
I liked the full-meal presentation, by the way.
Thank you for your very insightful post. I spent approximately 2 minutes and 37 seconds in your site so I count towards helping you get a higher bounce rate. I don’t think drive-by readers will ever hurt you. It’s traffic no matter. I think it’s all about getting a lot of everything — clicks, bounces, etc. But who know how Google does it. One thing I have observed in my blog is that I get great Google ranking but not Bing. Do you have an explanation for that? I’d love to pick your brain on that off-line, through email perhaps.
Do you have stats on how many people go to the page with just the recipes? Do people really print stuff out?! So bad for the environment, and so much clutter! I would definitely prefer the recipe in the post, because I bookmark all the recipes that I’m interested in, and just take my computer into the kitchen with me.
And the onion recipe at the top sounds delicious! Thanks!
It seems like every time I start to feel like I’m starting to understand it, they change the game. But it is totally fascinating. I hope you keep posting the geek side of things along with your beautiful recipes. It is good stuff.
I’ve been doing some digging on this duplicate content issue and here’s what I’ve found — “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.” This is from Google themselves. Read here — http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66359
From what it says there I think that your separate recipe page for printing reasons would be fine and not count as duplicate content.
Greg, you have really thought this out. This stuff floats through my mind all the time and I am not sure how to handle some of this SEO stuff. For now I will stick with gawking over your recipes. Gorgeous for spring!
very interesting! I never heard of google panda, but I did hear that google was changing their algorithm. I’m actually a computer programmer, so you’d think I’d know stuff like this, but you definitely know more than me! I’ll be interested to see how this impacts my blog long term.
I am tuned in and eager for answers — my alexa ranking was good — now I need to check again — and my bounce rate was improving but I also need to check that again — the over all theme here is I need check again — thanks
great post. from what i heard on npr, this is not the last of the tweaks. the google algorithm will constantly undergo changes as the content farms figure out how to game the tweaks. the npr piece actually suggested that this may be to the detriment of google and hinted that bing may become a more popular search engine.
Thanks for your comment the other day. Yes, this is very odd and interesting. I am so glad to read about it. Ugh, why does Google keep messing stuff up!
Thanks for the educational post. Very little of my traffic comes directly from Google, it’s usually from the referring sites, so I don’t even know how much these changes would impact a small blog like mine, but these are very interesting thoughts.
This was a great read. You know, I’ve been wondering why I now see so many links on my stat counter that are from Google. Not a search, just outright directed to me from google.com. I wonder if that March 25th date helped me out a bit too. But like you, I get a fair bit of drive-by traffic from the food photo sites. And I am guilty of quickly checking a blog to see if their recipe is of interest to me and then clicking out again. Yikes, hope that doesn’t hurt us!