Holy Aioli

Is the joy of aioli in using garlicky mayonnaise as an excuse to eat unseemly amounts of vegetables, or in using vegetables as an excuse to eat good mayonnaise?

It’s officially early summer, and the farmers’ market stands are selling enough different vegetables that it’s not quite possible for two people to eat one bunch of everything available. We’ve had peas (snow, sugar snap, and shelling) for almost a month, and the new crop of root vegetables for a couple of weeks, including a painter’s palette of beets and sweet/sharp white Japanese turnips the size of golf balls. Migliorelli Farm has been selling fennel bulbs the size of a pen, and Rick Bishop from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm promises his extraordinary fingerlings this week or next. In our house this abundance means that aioli season is getting going in earnest. Aioli refers both to the sauce—home-made mayonnaise with a hefty whack of raw garlic—and to the meal of said mayonnaise surrounded by hordes of blanched vegetables waiting to be dipped in and devoured. A small piece of poached white-but-meaty fish like black cod can be nice, too. It’s a great dish to for summer since a) it’s served at room temperature, and b) everything can be made ahead (though I prefer not to refrigerate the blanched veg, which means making them within two or three hours of the meal). And it’s finger food—always a plus.

Aioli, and mayonnaise in general, has a reputation for being hard to make but in reality it takes less skill than confidence. (Tara, quoting my friend Jordan, says “It’s one of those foods that can smell your fear.”) The recipe is simpler than pie (well, much simpler than pie, actully): Whisk together a raw egg yolk, a hefty pinch of salt, and some garlic puree in a big bowl, then slowly add olive oil while whisking like mad. One yolk takes a cup or more of oil and makes enough to serve three or four people. The garlic paste can be made with a mortar and pestle but a Microplane grater works even better. I sometimes use a small proportion of fancy oil, usually one with some peppery bite to it, to play up the taste of the oil instead of the garlic. I make aioli by hand, adding oil and beating until the mixture is really stiff, then adding a tiny splash of nearly-boiling water to get a consistency I like. I have yet to figure out if the joy of aioli is in using garlicky mayonnaise as an excuse to eat an unseemly amount of vegetables, or in using vegetables as an excuse to eat more good mayonnaise than I’ll admit to liking. This question, as they say, requires further research, which I plan to perform this week.

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