13 May 2013

Playing with Fire

By Jaret Foster, Operations Director, Portland Farmers Market

May the first, May Day or the Gaelic, Beltane, is a day I like to celebrate with fire. It marks the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice traditionally dedicated with a sizable bonfire representing the return of the sun’s light. This year we lucked out in the PNW with some real summer like weather and for years I had wanted to commemorate the day, and the season, by hosting a Calçotada with friends. Beltane 2013, fine weather, Viridian Farms calçots (pronounced cal-so) and several bottles of Cava in hand I lit the fire I’d been kindling since I was introduced to Catalan cuisine while working at La Catalana restaurant in 2000.


A Calçotada is a messy hands-on dining celebration of the calçots; a type of green onion known as blanca gran tardana in parts of Spain. They are a mild sweet onion that is blanched and overwintered as one would grow leeks to lengthen and whiten them by mounding soil or mulch while the plants grow, thereby blocking the suns rays from activating their chlorophyll production. Intensive. The calçots are grilled till blackened and tender then peeled, dredged in salbitxada or romesco sauces and eaten with your fingers from above. Viridian Farms sought out the seeds for this lovely allium in their travels to Spain during the off season and have been growing calçots for 4 to 5 seasons. Much of the crop is pre-sold to chefs even before it is dug from the earth but I made special arrangements to have some delivered to the Wednesday Shemanski Market–thanks Manuel!

Other items on the menu were oysters with chili butter (since the coals were hot) and shortrib stuffed piquillo peppers. I’d made a batch of shortribs from Pono Farms beef and finished them with a classic sofrito, bitter orange and oil cured olives. For make pretty we doused them in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled them with parsley, chive flowers and Maldon sea salt. In a nod to more blanched foodstuffs, I made an all-white salad of white asparagus, shaved fennel and Belgian endive dressed with champagne vinaigrette and topped with crumbled cotija. Pale and delicious.

I had friends in town, out from NY, and was trying to convince them that Portland is IT. Not a hard sell on a seventy-five degree spring day on the patio in Laurelhurst. We grilled calçots and oysters, toasted with cava, devoured wagyu stuffed peppers and dined well on braised pork. Fresh Stephens Farm strawberries drizzled in backyard honey (our host’s keep bees, of course) surrounded a freshly baked Basque almond cake for dessert. As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, we sipped eau de vie around the fireside and decided that the evening was perfect.