A grand aioli is an easy and elegant way to enjoy summer's bounty. See recipe below.
Bonny Wolf is a regular contributor to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. She is working on a book of food essays to be published by St. Martin's Press.
Vegetables surround the garlicky sauce. See recipe below.
This is not a meal for the timid.
A grand aioli (or aioli monstre) is a glorious way to celebrate the beginning of summer. But the whole point is garlic. Lots and lots of garlic. If this is a problem, read no further.
Aioli — a composite of French words for garlic and oil — is a garlic mayonnaise that forms the centerpiece of a grand feast. It is served with platters of meats, fish (traditionally poached salt cod), eggs, and as many raw and cooked vegetables as you like. Guests take a plate, fill it with vegetables, meat and fish and add a few dollops of aioli in which to dip it all.
Within seconds, you're transported to a charming village in the South of France on a hot, sunny day. And you don't even have to leave the house.
Garlic is practically a sacred object in Provence. This sauce so captures the essence of the area, that Nobel-prize winning poet Frederic Mistral called his Provencal journal L'Aioli.
"Aioli epitomizes the heat, the power, and the joy of the Provençal sun, but it has another virtue — it drives away flies," he wrote in 1891.
The word aioli refers to both the pungent, fly-chasing mayonnaise itself and the meal that revolves around it. What you serve at a grand aioli is limited only by your imagination and what's available at the market. The aioli is the star, so the other foods are prepared simply.
Putting together a grand aioli won't interfere with a languid summer day. You can use canned chickpeas, canned artichoke hearts and canned beets. Buy a rotisserie chicken or two, cut them up and put on a platter with some parsley.
Poach a cod fillet or try salmon, which adds color to the spread. In France, tiny snails are often part of a grand aioli. I once substituted frozen, cooked squid rings sautéed in a little oil. Think outside the box.
A grand aioli is the solution to cooking for a crowd. It works as a buffet for a fundraiser, as an outdoor picnic or an indoor dinner party. In Provence, a grand aioli is often a communal village meal.
It gets even better: The meal can all be made in advance, over several days. Choose your ingredients, wash them, blanch them, poach them and cut them up, put them in the refrigerator and assemble the day of the party. The mayonnaise should be made no more than one day in advance.
I fill a large, round stainless steel platter with colorful vegetables arranged like spokes in a wheel and set a bowl of aioli in the middle. (You can also hollow out an artichoke or a small red cabbage and scoop the aioli in there.) I put the salmon on a pewter platter shaped like a fish, the cut-up chicken on an earthenware tray, boiled potatoes in a bowl, hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved, on their own colorful plate. I fill another bowl with chickpeas. I put it all out on the island in the kitchen with a few more dishes of aioli.
It is colorful, bountiful and festive with a high ooh-and-aah factor. With the work all done in advance, you can have fun at your own party.
You can have your garlic and eat it too.
You don't really need hors d'oeuvres to accompany this meal, although a bowl of almonds is nice with a drink. A dry rose, an un-oaked chardonnay or a light red wine work well. Fruit sorbet is all you'll want for dessert.
This recipe is from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing 1979). I try others but keep coming back to this one. You'll need a double batch, but do 1 batch at a time. Use the freshest garlic you can find, and modulate amounts to your taste. This recipe will serve 12 hungry people.
8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. prepared Dijon-style mustard
1 ½ cups oil (half peanut oil, half olive oil) at room temperature
Puree garlic in a food processor or blender. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl until light and smooth, and add to the garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice and mustard, and process to a smooth paste.
With the machine still running, pour the oil very slowly into the mixture in a steady stream, blending constantly. Continue blending until you obtain a thick, shiny, firm sauce– a minute or so. It's best to have all ingredients at room temperature so they will easily emulsify. If the aioli separates, stop adding oil and continue to mix until ingredients come together. Transfer to storage container, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, but not more than 1 day.
The possibilities are limitless. These are some suggestions. Pick and choose what appeals to you or is fresh at the market. Choose three or four raw and three or four cooked vegetables; fresh fish (and salt cod if you use it); meat or chicken, and one hard-boiled egg per person. Use the smallest vegetables you can get and parboil those that need it.
Fish (Choose 1 or 2)
2-3 lbs. salt cod (soaked and poached)
2 lbs. pre-cooked squid cut into ½-inch strips
1 lb. periwinkles (tiny sea snails) (cook in salted water for 10 minutes and drain)
3 lbs. filet of salmon, cod, halibut or other fish, poached
Meat (Choose 1)
5 lbs. roast chicken, cut into pieces
1 lb. carpaccio (thin-sliced raw beef tenderloin)
4 lbs. boned leg of lamb, roasted and sliced
Blanched Vegetables (Choose 2 or 3)
½ lb. snow peas or snap peas
½ lb. thin green beans
2 lbs. cauliflower
2 lbs. broccoli
2 lbs. thin asparagus
12 baby artichokes (choke removed) or canned artichoke hearts
1 lb. baby zucchini (or regular zucchini sliced into sticks)
1 lb. baby patty pan squash (or regular patty pan or summer squash cut into bite-size pieces)
To blanch, place in boiling water for just a couple of minutes and refresh in a bowl of ice water. Drain and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
Raw Vegetables (Choose 2 or 3)
1 pint basket cherry or grape tomatoes
1 lb. baby carrots
3 red, yellow and/or orange peppers, sliced
Bunch celery, cut into sticks
12 hard-boiled eggs
6 medium beets, baked and peeled or from a can
Can of chick peas (garbanzo beans)
1 lb. boiled new potatoes
4 sweet potatoes boiled, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces