"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Le Grand Aioli

In an effort to redeem myself after the last, sort of, well, maybe, shall I say, half-arsed post, I've got something pretty darn tasty to share.  Having just finished reading A Pig in Provence, by Georgeanne Brennan, for the second time, I got inspired to make Le Grand Aioli, an Aioli Feast, that is.

Now, I will confess to being slightly intimidated about making my own aioli. After all, in addition to using raw eggs, which we Americans are made to feel is akin to voluntarily poisoning yourself (and your husband and children in my case), and the copious amounts of olive oil which we are made to fear, picturing our insides clogging up and our outsides turning into lumpy, soft mounds of fat...in addition to these, there is the risk of going to all the effort, only to end up with a broken aioli.  And that, my friends, scared me far more than some silly salmonella, or clogged arteries.  Broken?!  Mais non! (The process by which an aioli, just like mayonnaise, is made requires that raw egg yolks are bound with the olive oil, to create a rich, thick dip.  A broken one just means that it didn't bind properly, and I guess it turns out thin and runny.  I have heard that to remedy this, you can add a small piece of cooked potato, and re-whisk it.)

Fortunately, nothing broke, not even my arm from whisking.  And no food poisoning whatsoever.  It remains to be seen how our arteries are doing. What's life without a bit of risk though?  Ha!  I laugh in the face of danger!

Anyway, here's how I did it, following Georgeanne Brennan's directions:

Begin by crushing four cloves of garlic and a pinch of coarse sea salt (mine was a fairly hefty pinch) in a mortar and pestle, to make a smooth paste.

Turn the paste into a large bowl and add three, preferably free-range, organic (outwitting the raw egg dangers, after all) egg yolks, and whisk it together. Drop by drop, ever so slowly, drizzle in a half a cup of olive oil, whisking continuously, so that the egg binds properly with the oil.  Know this, folks, I cheated a bit here, and used my little electric hand held immersion blender, which has a whisk attachment.  Fearful that my manual whisking abilities would not be up to snuff, you see.  Turns out, they were, and that cord just kept getting the way, so I did end up whisking by hand before long.  So what if I have Popeye muscles in one arm now?  We're making aioli here!

Once your aioli begins to thicken, and looks nice and bound, you can add another half a cup olive oil, steadily drizzling it in while whisking the entire time.  (This is somewhat tricky, as the bowl wanted to spin away, but I grabbed my ever-helpful daughter, to hold it still.)  Whisk just until the aioli is nice and stiff.

Et voila!  You have, in under ten minutes, made an authentic, gorgeously garlicky, green tinged, French aioli!  Seriously, it took no time at all! (Never mind the splatters of olive oil all over myself and the countertops.)

And was it tasty?  Mais oui!  Very, very garlicky, and deliciously tangy from the olive oil.  I added another pinch of salt to season it at the end, because it felt like the right thing to do.  (Note:  to any Francophiles, or French folks out there, I apologize profusely if I'm slaughtering the spelling of your language here.  I know some accents are missing, but have no clue how to find them on this tricky keyboard.  Rest assured, my pronunciation of your language is far more offensive...but you can't hear me, so it doesn't matter.)

Ms. Brennan recommends using half a cup of olive oil, and half a cup of milder oil, like grapeseed or sunflower, if you want a less aggressive taste.  I love olive oil, though, so went for the whole cup, and absolutely did not regret it.

This makes a fairly large amount, well over a cup, and even though we're centering our meal around it, we couldn't possibly use all of it.  I mean, a little goes a long way, and we've got heaps left over.

Continuing on with the authentic aioli feast, I served the aioli with blanched vegetables, and baguette, and little prosciutto (I know, it's Italian, but they have something similar in France, so don't worry about it.)  This was the most time-consuming part, but still pretty easy peasy.  How hard is it to throw vegetables into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then run under cold water to stop the cooking?  It's not.  Super easy.

The Vegetables

Half a small head of cauliflower, broken into florets, boil 3-4 minutes

A handful or two of sugar snap peas, boil 1 1/2 minutes

Asparagus spears, boil 1-2 minutes, depending on thickness, just til they're bright green

3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into whatever size pieces you like, boil 2-3 minutes

4 small beets, boiled whole for 30 or so minutes, then rub skin off with paper towel, slice into 1/2's or 1/4's

Blanch each vegetable separately, but use the same water, so as to be more efficient.  Boil your lighter veg first, like the cauliflower, so it doesn't get colored by say, asparagus or carrots.  The idea here is to keep the crispness and enhance the color of each vegetable, by just barely cooking it. Using a slotted spoon, fish the veg out of the hot water, and immediately run under cold water, or throw in an ice bath, then drain on tea towels.

And let us not forget the eggs!  Georgeanne recommends it as part of the real deal, Le Grand Aioli, and I must agree.  Yum.

The Eggs

Place four eggs in cold water, in a small, but uncrowded saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat.  As soon as the water boils, immediately turn it down to a very gentle simmer, set the timer for 6 minutes.  Once the timer goes off, carefully pour out the hot water and replace with cold water.  Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice in half.

I threw a sprinkle of sel gris over all the veg and eggs for serving, but sea salt works fine too.  We also threw some raw radishes in, because why not?  The more, the merrier.

And there you have it.  Le Grand Aioli.  A very lovely dig-in-and-make-your-own-plate kind of supper, who doesn't love that?  And I'm pretty sure that that amount of garlic, with its marvelous health benefits, must surely outweigh the dangers of a rather lot of olive oil.   Right?

Oh yes, that's my gal, licking the aioli bowl.  Hmmm...not something you see every day.

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