Jaume Plana roasts calcots at Cal Ganxo, a restaurant in Valls, Spain, that has winter feasts showcasing the twice-planted onions. (Tom Haines /Tom Haines )

As winter turns to spring in the arid countryside west of Barcelona, onions long and stout are roasted on open fires and served as the central ingredient at festivals and family feasts.

The calcots, as the special onions are known, gain their hearty sweetness from two lives. After a first planting, they are dug up, and then months later they’re planted again. On the second planting, earth is piled around the shoots as they emerge so that more of each stalk grows thick and tender. The result is so treasured that calcots from a particular region of Catalonia are given a special status with a European Union protected geographical indication.

The annual culinary celebrations, called calcotadas, are also common in restaurants, and they are a moment of heat in the slumbering season when the soil is cool and the sky is a gentle blue. Paired with a visit to a historic monastery, a midday calcotada at a rural restaurant can make for a nourishing day trip from Barcelona. And for those who gather ’round the table, the ritual can become not just about eating, but also about measuring connections to time and place.

My relationship with calcots has grown from a double-planting of its own. Fifteen years ago, I joined an eclectic group of friends for a pilgrimage to the town of Valls, the capital of calcots, an hour west of Barcelona. We were nine people from seven countries, all in our 20s or early 30s. Then, this past March, the core group gathered again, with my 11-year-old son among the important additions, to return to Valls and the same restaurant of wooden beams and stone walls lit by slanting sunlight.

On the morning of this second trip, we drove west an hour from central Barcelona and detoured first to Poblet, a 12th-century monastery that holds graves of several kings of Catalonia and Aragon. My son, Luca, and the others strolled from cavernous hall to sheltered courtyard, and I idled in the immediacy of the moment: echoes of footsteps. The cold of a stone wall emerging from shade into sunlight. The smoky scent of sage.

We had booked a table for a 1 p.m. seating at the restaurant Cal Ganxo, 15 miles south, and soon we were hurrying to get there. Hundreds of other diners — including many extended families from the countryside and Barcelona — had already begun eating, and we were ushered to a round table in the corner of a long room. Could it be the same at which we sat 15 years before? We all tied on cloth bibs as waiters delivered armloads of grilled calcots wrapped in newspaper. Alessandro, an Italian friend who had instigated the first trip 15 years before, turned to me and said, “Welcome back.”

Most of us knew the ritual, and I watched as Luca tried his hand. He removed the charred outer husks to expose the inner sweetness of the onion. He dipped it in a thick garlic-almond sauce. He tilted back his head, dangled the calcot for a moment, then devoured it.

Soon the scene was a blur, all of us shucking and dipping and dangling and munching. The calcots were meaty and moist, and the rich sauce added addictive depth. Waiters kept delivering stacks of freshly roasted calcots, and Alessandro and I fell into a steady cadence, each eating well more than a dozen.

“I don’t count them,” Alessandro told me. “There is no point.”

Maria, a native of the region, hoisted a pitcher of red wine and showed Luca how to hold it at arm’s length, pointing the steady stream into the back of the mouth. Luca drank a bit with unexpected control, then he and Anton, the 10-year-old son of another friend, headed to the gravel courtyard to pass a soccer ball. Luca returned to his seat with a warm smile, his world expanding around the table. Later would come platters of lamb and sausage, beans and artichokes, then crema catalana and fresh orange slices for dessert. For the moment, though, we were lost to the task, all of us licking our sooty fingers and reaching again toward the stacks of steaming calcots.

Alexandar, a Bulgarian friend who had encouraged us all to gather for the reunion, turned to me during a moment of pause. “What is nice,” he said softly, “is that we are growing older, but not in spirit.”

Haines is a journalist and an assistant professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

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If you go
Where to eat

Cal Ganxo





This elegant country restaurant hosts traditional calcotadas from November to April. The meal, which is served with red wine and chilled cava, starts with endless calcots, then racks of lamb and sausage, beans and artichokes. Crema catalan and fresh oranges complete the feast. $45 per person.

What to do

Poblet Monastery

Plaza Corona de Aragon, 11

43448 Poblet



This vibrant and well-preserved 12th-century Cistercian monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, makes a great side trip. It is 20 minutes by car north of the restaurant. Check Web site for hours, which change with the seasons. Entry is $8.50.

— T.H.