SOMETIMES inspiration comes from the strangest of places.
A faint scent carried on the breeze, can get me thinking about new dishes or old classics.
A page in a magazine, a serving suggestion on the side of a packet, a conversation – all can send me off scribbling hasty notes or more often recording them on my iPhone for future use.
And it was the very latest modern technology that brought me to this week’s recipe.
I’ll admit it, I’m a Twitter-holic. I adore this latest social networking tool.
For those who don’t know how it works, it basically allows people to converse, announce or argue with people across the globe but limiting them to messages of 140 characters or less which forces one to get to the point quite neatly.
Many use it as a news-feed, and the cooking world has leapt upon Twitter in a big way as an elegant and rapid way of disseminating discussion, menu changes, recipe chat, restaurant reviews and theoretical musings with foodies worldwide.
Top chefs can talk with amateurs and critics can themselves find themselves under the microscope. It’s a great leveller.
On Saturday night a friend of mine, the delightful food writer Marlena Spieler, tweeted that she’d bought some amazing huge spring onions at a farmer’s market and was wondering what to do with them.
Within minutes she’d been bombarded with ideas and recipes from followers across the planet.
My suggestion was one I’d wanted to try myself for ages, and we chatted about how great the recipe sounds.
I decided that, even if she wasn’t going to try it, I definitely was. And this week’s recipe was born.
Spring onions, or rather a specific type of spring onion – the blanca gran tardana known locally as calçots – are celebrated heartily by the people of Catalunya in the north-eastern corner of Spain.
The city of Tarragona is the centre of this passion and in season the whole region fires up the charcoal and wood grills and shovels on the onions.
Parties known as Calçotadas are thrown in April and May where vast bunches of these beautiful, mild onions are grilled over flames until lightly charred.
They are grown in a similar fashion to prize leeks with the soil being piled up around the stems, encouraging a longer white section and less green stalk.
When cooked they are served with a classic romesco sauce, a piquant, hearty concoction made with mild chili, red peppers, bread and nuts.
Meat is then cooked over the dying embers and the whole lot is wolfed down with glee – and plenty of wine. Sounds like fun, hey?
If you can find baby leeks, they’d work excellently, but I used extra-large spring onions for my take on this Catalonian classic.
I thought I’d pair them with a simple breast of juicy corn-fed chicken, but you could grill a nice rare steak or even a plump piece of tuna if you like. A few wrinkly-roast potatoes complete the dish. Aprons on!
4 large corn-fed chicken suprèmes
Extra-Virgin olive oil
3 bunches of plump extra-large spring onions
Extra-Virgin olive oil for brushing
Maldon Salt & Pepper
3 mild dried red chillies, such as Ancho peppers
1 large red pepper, halved and seeded
1/4 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
4 thick slices bread
6 tbsp olive oil
4 large tomatoes, halved
6 large garlic cloves
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
To Accompany the dish:
A few new potatoes
To make the sauce soak the dried chillies in hot water until soft, then drain. Heat the oven to 425°F, 220°C, Gas 7. Place the pepper halves, tomatoes and garlic on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes until the pepper is blistered and the garlic is soft.
Cool, then peel the pepper as much as you can (it’s fiddly. I throw them straight into a bowl and cover with clingfilm for 10 minutes. This seems to help ‘steam’ the skins loose).
Squeeze the garlic flesh from the papery skins. Fry the bread in a little of the oil until golden, then transfer to the plate with the nuts and leave to cool. Reserve the oil from cooking.
Whizz the soaked chilis in a food processor. Add the red pepper halves, tomatoes, garlic, hazelnuts and bread chunks together with the rest of the olive oil and a splash of lemon juice.
Add the vinegar and process to a paste. Check the seasoning and thin the sauce if needs be with a little more oil or lemon juice.
Cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling water until almost done. Rub with olive oil and plenty of Maldon salt and roast in the oven until crinkly. Keep warm.
Season and grill your chicken suprèmes and keep warm.
Brush the onions with olive oil. Heat a ridged grill pan and cook the onions for about two minutes on each side, turning once and brushing with oil. Alternatively barbecue them for 3-4 minutes on each side, brushing with extra oil as needed.