Sometimes I get my best inspiration when watching my favorite travel-food show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (Jules joked that this show is my religion). After buying a ton of vegetables at the farmer’s market and Berkeley Bowl West, I happened upon an episode in Provence where one of the host families was preparing a traditional Provençal meal: Le Grand Aïoli. This wonderfully healthy and tasty dish is quite simple – seasonal vegetables and salt cod served with a magical garlic sauce whipped up by hand in a mortar and pestle. Quite possibly a very good way to get the carnivorous males in my life to eat more vegetables.
Just for this purpose, I went out and bought an inexpensive ceramic mortar and pestle from Cost Plus World Market – it is medium sized (maybe 5 inches across?) for a mere $6.99. The aioli was intimidating at first – I heard that it was temperamental and you could easily mess it up. I put 8 cloves of garlic in the bowl and started mashing away. After a few minutes of pulverizing the cloves, they still weren’t quite a “paste” and my arm was getting tired, so I started considering throwing the whole thing in the blender. However, as a big fan of doing things “authentically”, I kept going…and ended up with an aioli that was perfectly creamy, smooth, and thick enough to keep the pestle standing upright when all was said and done. Moral of the aioli story (and in life, really): just when you think you don’t have the strength to go on, keep at it.
Le Grand Aïoli (recipe from http://www.whats4eats.com/)
4 to 6 servings
For the Platter
· Onion, quartered and studded with 3 or 4 cloves — 1
· Small boiling potatoes — 1 pound
· Carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks — 1 pound
· Green beans — 1 pound
· Salted cod fillets, soaked for at least 24 hours and cut into serving pieces — 2 pounds
· Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved — 6
For the Aïoli
· Garlic cloves — 8 to 10
· Salt — big pinch
· Egg yolks — 2
· Olive oil — 1 1/2 cups
· Lemon juice or vinegar — 2 teaspoons
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, reduce heat to medium-low and keep the water at a slow boil. Add the potatoes and cook them until they are tender and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a serving platter.
2. Next add the carrots to the liquid and simmer them until they are just cooked through, usually around 7 or 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and arrange them neatly next to the potatoes.
3. Then add the green beans and cook them until they are done to your liking, about 5 or 6 minutes. Set them nicely next to the carrots on the platter.
4. Finally, add the cod filets and let them simmer until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to the platter. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the platter. Cover the platter loosely with foil and set aside.
5. Add the garlic cloves and a big pinch of salt to a large mortar and use a pestle to mash the garlic cloves to a puree.
6. Add the egg yolks and grind them into the garlic puree until the mixture is smooth. Very slowly dribble the olive oil down the side of the mortar, grinding the pestle all the while and always in the same clockwise or counterclockwise direction. The sauce will begin to thicken.
7. After about half of the olive oil has been added, grind in the lemon juice or vinegar. Then resume adding the olive oil. You can pour it a little faster at this point. The egg yolk and olive oil will form a thick emulsion.
8. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with the room-temperature fish and vegetables. Dab every bite in a little bit of the garlicky sauce.