BOOK EXCERPT

A Late Dinner in Spanish Catalonia

Here's an excerpt from Paul Richardson's charming new book, "A Late Dinner," about the cuisine of Spain.

The scale and slickness of the operation would be astonishing to anyone previously unaware of the Catalan lust for calçots. There was a fully equipped children's playground. There were gardens with tables and terraces. A monumental stone frieze by the front door paid homage to the pioneers who made the calçotada what it is today. At the back of the house was the engine room, a covered enclosure where fires of vine prunings blazed on an earth floor, and the calçots were piled up in rows on grills above the fire, filling the air with a thick, sweet smoke. I made a quick and easy calculation: if there were roughly twenty calçots per portion, and if 1,500 people would having lunch at the Masia that Sunday, we were dealing with a figure of around 30,000 calçots for the day.

It was easy enough to believe. The various dining rooms were packed with families, and each table had its pile of blackened calçots, served on a roof tile; its pot of reddish, glistening sauce; and its big carafe of local red wine. Some of the people were already finishing their lunch, the tables strewn with debris, the faces of their grinning children, like Victorian chimney sweeps, black with grime. (The Masia provides special paper bibs, for adults as well as children, or the dry cleaners of Valls would be even better off than they already are.) One couple had bravely ordered crema catalana, a caramel-topped custard that is the Catalan national dessert, but were struggling to finish it after their feast of calçots and grilled meats, dangling their spoons in midair as they gazed blankly into space. The volume of noise was prodigious. Even so, a grandfather figure at one long table had managed to sink into a postprandial snooze, his head slumped on his chest while the storm raged about him.

Excerpted from A Late Dinner by Paul Richardson. Available from Amazon.com. Copyright © 2007 by Paul Richardson. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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