Last week, one of Adam’s birthday requests was to have our friend Michelle teach us how she prepares her infamous artichokes, which are truly the best artichokes I’ve ever eaten. (Hint: She uses a lot of lemons, and trims much more of the artichoke than you think you really should).
Around the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about those gorgeous Chez Panisse menus, many of which were designed for the restaurant’s lavish Le Grand Aïoli parties.
So we organized a small pre-birthday dinner around both Adam’s desire to consume those lemony, minty, velvety artichokes and my passion to host a classically Provencal Le Grand Aïoli. In his Provence the Beautiful Cookbook, Richard Olney states:
“[Aïoli] designates the ritual celebration of poached salt cod, boiled vegetables, hard-cooked eggs and a selection of garden snails, sea snails, periwinkles, mussels, octopus, and other seafoods. When it is complete, it is called Le Grand Aïoli. Everything is served warm, simply because it is impossible to get it all onto the table hot.”
It sounds perfect, right?
Even though we didn’t serve any seafood — just a platter of fresh vegetables and a single tureen of sauce — it still felt incredibly elegant and luxurious. In addition to Michelle’s extraordinary artichokes, there were tiny fingerling potatoes, quartered golden beets, roasted cauliflower, yellow wax beans, chubby nubs of carrots, and spicy radishes. We dipped the vegetables in a glossy puddle of garlicky aïoli, which coated everything in its thick, shiny embrace. When we ran out of vegetables, I started compulsively dunking my fingers into the bowl and licking the aïoli off of my skin like a popsicle.
The only other ingredients you need are a loaf of super-crusty bread (in a perfect world, the Tartine country bread), a plate of salted butter, and a great bottle of Rosé. Michelle brought over a 2009 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé as an early birthday present. The Bandol region is one of my favorite appellations, and the Tempier Rosé — infamously temperamental and unpredictable — happily didn’t disappoint.
[Note: I know that it can be hard to get in the habit of making your own mayonnaise, but honestly, once you do it, it's the most simple thing ever and you'll never want to go back because the flavor is so indescribably delicious. And you don't need an electric mix, either. Just a strong forearm, a sturdy whisk, and patience.]
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/2 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t salt
3/4 cup olive oil (I always approximate this amount; just add slowly until it is as thick as you like, remembering that the more oil you add, the thicker it will be)
1 t white wine vinegar
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup garlic, run through a garlic press (other recipes say the garlic can just be finely chopped, but I prefer the smoother texture of a garlic press; you could also use a mortar and pestle to get a similar paste-like consistency).
—Whisk yolk, mustard, and salt in a small bowl until well combined.
—Add about 1/4 cup olive oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.
—Whisk in vinegar and lemon juice.
—Whisk in remaining 1/2 oil until well blended and smooth. (Note: if it appears that the oil is not incorporating smoothly, stop adding oil and whisk vigorously until the mixture is smooth again).
—Whisk in salt and garlic paste to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.