As the sun slowly set and the adults steadily sipped, we loaded our supplies and crept into position. From the slight hill just above the bonfire we had a strategic view over the paddock in all four directions. This was to be our command post; our mission control.
Big Bro was muttering to himself, shaking his head as he counted out our fireworks; skyrockets in a thatch bag, roman fountains in their aluminium foil packet, Po-hars (double happies) and Tom Thumbs securely packed into circular tin jars, previously employed as camera film containers. The muttering continued as he counted.
“Not enough,” he said, looking at Twin Bro and I. “There’s not enough.”
All three of us looked up as a small child leapt up the hill towards us, laughing excitedly. “Cooooool!” he said, eyeing our munitions. “You got Po-hars too?”
We weren’t looking at him though, but at what he held in his hands – two packets of Po-hars, ten apiece in each, wrapped in red wax paper, shining with potential.
Big Bro squared up, planted his left foot and stretched his right hand out, palm facing up. He frowned slightly.
“Gizzit.” His voice was quiet but with the unmistakable tone of implied violence. “Now.”
The smiling, the laughter, the excitement; it all drained from the child’s face. “B-b-but … But Dad said …”
“I don’t care about Dad; I want those Po-hars. So you can either give them to me, or get a punch in the face. Your choice”
The child’s bottom lip started quivering.
“Don’t cry,” Twin Bro said. “It just makes him angrier”.
“Better hurry up kid, before I reverse the first and keep on with the second.” Big Bro was looking around now, making sure no adults were looking our way. They weren’t. The kid was frowning now. I sighed.
“What he means,” I said. “Was that he’ll just take the Po-hars from you, and still punch you in the face. I’d stick with the first offer; it’s a good deal”.
The kid dropped the red packets and made to run off, but Twin Bro was too quick, he had him almost instantly by the collar. Big Bro moved in, inches from his face.
“You tell anyone? We’ll take the guy down off the bonfire, and chuck you up instead. Got it?”
The kid was looking frantically from the bonfire and back to Big Bro. “He doesn’t look too heavy” I pitched in. Twin Bro shook him a little before saying “Wouldn’t take much to heave him up”. He let go of the child as Big Bro stooped down and retrieved the Po-hars from the grass. He looked around again. No adult activity focused on us, as yet. He leaned in again towards the child, who seemed frozen in fear.
The kid ran.
Dusk turned to twilight, the adults continued drinking, and as the music and laughter drifted through the evening air, we turned our sights skyward and watched the first rockets explode into light. Two grown-ups had already fallen over; the laughter of another group had descended towards a lower plane of sobriety. As more rockets sped upwards into the night, and the children danced around the spinning fountains with sparklers in their hands, we knew our time was approaching. We packed up our tin cans, hitched our thatch bags over our shoulders, and slowly moved down the hill.
As agreed, we split up, knowing that the lighting of the bonfire was to be our sign to start. I moved quietly behind a group of teenagers, stealthily slurping stolen cans of beer. The cows had only been moved from the paddock a day earlier, and even though the day’s sunlight had hardened the surface of the cow pats, the smell still told you where they were. I had lost sight of Twin Bro and Big Bro, but I knew they were following the plan just as I was. I sunk a few Po-hars into the cow pat, and crept back a metre or two. The decision to wear black was paying off; the teenagers barely glanced in my direction, their shadows flickered across my face as they sipped and laughed.
The noise around the bonfire was getting louder, instinctively I reached into my pocket and pulled out my lighter. Peering through the teenagers I glimpsed an adult, flaming stick in hand, lighting the hay around the bonfire. Almost immediately a loud crack went off; he dropped the stick and swiftly pivoted around.
“What the …?” He said to himself before, in a louder voice: “Cow shit? Goddam cow shit!?”. I could just make out Twin Bro sprinting through the fringes of the crowd, up and around towards mission control.
Without another second lost I lit the Po-hars, and in a moment of inspiration also lit an entire line of Tom Thumbs, throwing them in front of the teenagers as I raced past. The gunshot cracking sound of the Tom Thumbs had them instantly moving towards the booby-trapped cow pat. Within moments, after the muffled crack of the detonated pat, the teenagers loud exclamations joined that of the bonfire lighter: “Cow shit? Goddam cow shit!?”
Regrouping on the hill a minute later, Big Bro was shaking his head again. “The lighter jammed, I had to use matches! I couldn’t light it quick enough, because you – ” he pointed at Twin Bro, “started too early!”
Twin Bro shrugged. “An opportunity presented itself, I took it.” He shrugged again. I looked past them, down the hill towards the teenagers, darkened silhouettes against the bonfire. They were looking up at us, wiping cow shit off their legs, necking back more stolen cans of beer, pointing menacingly in our direction. Big Bro narrowed his eyes. “Do a count!” he hissed, loading a skyrocket into a PVC pipe he’d kept hidden in his bag. We opened our tins, counted our Tom Thumbs and our Po-hars, stabbed some skyrockets into the grass, then nodded back. “Enough” I said. The teenagers had begun slowly walking towards us.
“Right,” Big Bro said, as he raised the pipe onto his shoulders and lit a match. “Give them everything we got!” He paused, looked us solemnly in the face, one at a time. “And then …” He lit the fuse of the skyrocket, bent down on one knee, and closed his left eye: “Run like fuck towards Mum.”
“Remember, remember, the 5th of November: Gunpowder, treason and plot …”
Steak with Grilled Baby Leeks & Romesco Sauce
Spaniards have their own bonfires too, just without the fireworks, explosives and anti-parliament sentiment of Guy Fawkes Night. And instead of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes himself over the bonfire, they cook some food over the flames. So almost the same, I guess …
Once a year, in the town of Valls, in Tarragona (Cataluna) bonfires are lit from the branches of the local vineyards, steel racks laid over them, then Calçots wrapped in newspaper, are placed on the racks. Think of calçots as the green stems of onions, replanted in soil and allowed to grow again. The stems are constantly covered by soil as they grow, the flesh inside staying sweet and white. Meat is thrown on top of the massive barbecue as the calçots blacken, and once all cooked, the charcoal outside of the calçots are stripped off, dipped in a traditional Romesco sauce, then downed in one. The more lewd and salacious the comments made, as the head is thrown back, mouth opened and the Romesco drenched calçots downed in one, the better …
- Good Quality Steak
- Baby Leeks
- Kitchen String
- Baking Paper
- Red Capsicums
- Vine Ripened Tomatoes (or the best sweet, juicy ones you can find)
- Whole Blanched Almonds
- Fresh Thyme
- Fresh Parsley
- Good Quality Olive Oil
- Red Wine Vinegar
First … The Romesco Sauce:
This takes the longest time out of the whole recipe, so best to get it done now.
Start by turning the oven on to 180 degrees, set to fan bake.
In an oven tray, place two red peppers and five to six tomatoes along with five or so cloves of garlic, unpeeled. Place these in the oven on the top rack. Once you can smell the garlic emanating from the oven (probably ten minutes at most) take the garlic out, turn the peppers and tomatoes over, then continue roasting for a further 15 minutes or so. I would err on the side of caution and leave them in longer than shorter; the skins should be black and blistered. It is possible the tomatoes may have to come out sooner than the peppers.
Once the tomatoes and peppers are taken out, place them on a plate and cover with cling film for five to ten minutes. From here, peel off the blackened skin (not that easy really, the peppers and tomatoes are still hot!) cut in half and discard the seeds (not that easy either, they stick to everything) and try and save as much of the juice that leaks out as possible (um, yeah … not too easy as well; I just do the whole procedure over a bowl, then strain the juices out into the sauce later …). Roughly cut peppers, unpeeled garlic and tomatoes then place into a hand blitzer or mortar and pestle, and blitz or bash away. Place this into a mixing bowl.
While the peppers, garlic and tomatoes are roasting, in another oven tray place a good handful of almonds in, with about half the amount of hazelnuts. Roast these in the oven, turning once or twice, for five or so minutes. Pay close attention to them so they don’t get burnt or take on two much colour. You want a good medium roast. Blitz or bash the nuts then combine with the pepper mix.
For the past month or so my local supermarket has been fairly short on fresh chilli’s, which has led to an enforced substitution of chilli paste. After playing Russian Roulette with chilli’s for half my life, I’ve grown rather fond of using a teaspoon of chilli paste rather than fresh chilli. I feel it gives more control, and avoids blowing out your tastebuds with the occasional devil chilli … So either blitz or bash up fresh chilli, seeds in or out (you be your own judge of heat …) or use some chilli paste, starting with a little and adding more if required.
Mix this all together with the peppers, garlic, tomatoes and nuts, then add a splash of red wine vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a small handful of roughly chopped fresh thyme and parsley, season with some salt and pepper, then taste … It should be sweet from the tomatoes and peppers, slightly tart from the vinegar and lemon juice, seasoned well, with a fresh vibrancy from the herbs. Readjust a little at a time as needed, till you get the taste you want.
Next … The Baby Leeks:
So in the confines of your own kitchen we shall try and replicate the Calçotada of Valls …
First, top and tail the baby leeks, then wash thoroughly in running water. Nothing is worse when eating this than finding gritty bits of dirt throughout the leeks. Wash ’em up.
Get a pan nice and hot, add some olive oil, then sauté the leeks for three or so minutes, or until some colour develops. Take them off the stove, place on some kitchen paper, wrap them up and secure with some kitchen string, then place these in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes. It’s also possible to wrap them up in newspaper and throw them on the barbecue outside (though I haven’t tried it myself yet, no barbecue and all …). You could possibly blister up the capsicums and tomatoes on the grill at the same time.
Finally … The Steak:
Dear Reader, as I’ve said before, I have plenty of faith in your ability to cook a steak. Don’t let me down now. Medium rare though, if you would … And please, please rest your steak for at least half the time it takes to cook.
Other than that remember it would look pretty cool on the plate to simply cut the string and leave the baby leeks in the kitchen paper when serving, liberally drizzled with the Romesco sauce.
Don’t forget, however, to save up some choice double entendres as your guests down the baby leeks … It is traditional remember …