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D.I.Y. GRAND AIOLI

Our friends Radwan and Raia weren’t able to make it to my Kinfolk dinner, so we replicated the grand aioli feast for them right in their home! Afterward, I wrote another column for Offerings honoring this tremendous, life-affirming dish. My last Offerings piece focused on Provencal mussels, so I guess I’m on a bit of a southern France kick! Read on:

Of all of the sacred Provençal traditions, the fierce, garlicky aïoli is one of the region’s most beloved, mystical and legendary rituals. Frédéric Mistral, the lyrical 19th century Provençal poet, wrote that “aioli intoxicates gently, fills the body with warmth, and the soul with enthusiasm. In its essence it concentrates the strength, the gaiety, of the Provençal sunshine.” (He even had a Provencal journal dubbed L’Aioli, so enamored was he of the dish).

In the summer, Provençal villages gather outside for a festival celebrating their local saints and crops of garlic. This culinary orgy is called the aïoli monstre, or The Grand Aïoli, and the feast constitutes a spectacular entanglement of fresh vegetables, seafood, and garlic. This beauteous meal — surely the most sumptuous, color-soaked way to celebrate summer and local harvest — includes a bevy of seasonal ingredients, like beets, carrots, green beans, artichokes, radishes, potatoes, snails, clams, octopus, and salt cod. The only rule is to use the freshest and best ingredients available.

Of all of Provence’s iconic party dishes (bouillabaisse, couscous, and bagna cauda being other notable Les Plats de Festin), aïoli is my very favorite. In Mireille Johnston’s essential tome The Cuisine of the Sun, she writes that these “superdishes” require “exuberance in the planning, many guests to enjoy them, a certain solemnity at the table, and a long siesta to recover from them.” Aïoli pairs up perfectly with my love of parties.

But perhaps a rounded platter heaped high with of boiled fish, raw vegetables, and globs of garlic mayonnaise does not inspire lust in you, so trust me when I say that this will be one of the most lavish, sensual and extraordinary feasts you will prepare all year. It’s a living rainbow on a plate. (In Simple French Food, cookbook writer Richard Olney says that the thought of aïoli “transports a solid block of the meridional French population to heights of ecstasy”). And in the hot summer months when you are loath to turn on your stove, you’ll be relieved to have on hand such a simple, straightforward recipe.

A proper aïoli comprises three main ingredients: egg yolk, garlic, and olive oil. Each must be of impeccable quality, or else there is really no point. Most importantly, look for garlic that is firm, crisp, and sticky. Once it gets a lengthy turn in a mortar and pestle, the garlic will be transformed into a smooth and creamy paste. (Toss any bulbs that are sprouting or feel limp, as you really want the best and brightest specimens). Be creative and loose with the sauce accompaniments, but think variety of color (saturated fuchsias, grassy greens, marigold yellow, shocking orange) and preparation (raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, grilled). If your guests are worried about their pungent breath — and their breath will be pungent — offer sprigs of parsley or mint at the conclusion of the feast. But we’re all in this together, you know?

Recipe notes: I rarely use a recipe when making aïoli, but a good rule of thumb is two cloves of garlic per person and 1 egg yolk for every four people. For those who have never made an aïoli before, I have a sneaky shortcut: a teaspoon of good Dijon mustard, whisked into the yolk-garlic paste, will help stabilize your mayonnaise as you whisk the oil in. You’ll never have a broken aïoli again.

Le Grand Aïoli

Serves 8 people

For the aïoli:

16 garlic cloves, peeled (the “Music” variety, found in most Ontario and Quebec markets, is a delicious Canadian option)

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Handful parsley and chives, to garnish

Salt, to taste

 

—Using a sharp knife, roughly chop garlic into big chunks.

—Move to mortar and pestle, and pound steadily using broad sweeps with your wrist. Add a liberal amount of salt, and the garlic should begin to break down after several minutes into a smooth, thick paste.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, a food processor is an acceptable substitute).

—Scrape the garlic into a medium-sized bowl and whisk in the egg yolks and mustard until smooth.

—Using a steady hand, add oil in a steady stream, at first drop by drop, and then faster, whisking constantly and furiously. The aïoli will actually thicken, not thin, with the addition of the oil emulsion. (Note: if the sauce breaks, you can whisk in another egg yolk to get it smooth again.)

—When the sauce looks thick and glossy, whisk in the lemon juice. Add salt to taste.

—If eating immediately, garnish with chopped parsley and chives. If not eating right away, cover with plastic wrap, pressing right on the surface, and refrigerate.

 

For the trimmings, mix and match the following:

Mixed seafood (2 lbs each boiled salt cod, snails, clams, and grilled baby octopus or squid)

6 beets

1 bunch carrots, trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 bunch radishes, trimmed and halved

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets

2 lbs cherry tomatoes, washed and trimmed

8 new potatoes (smaller potatoes like fingerlings would be lovely too)

2 fennel bulbs, sliced thinly on a mandoline

2 lbs green beans, trimmed

8 artichokes, trimmed, boiled and quartered

2 lbs baby squash, trimmed and cut lengthwise

2 lbs asparagus, stalks trimmed

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

4 lemons, sliced

 

—Prepare the vegetables that you would like cooked. For example: roast cauliflower florets, baby squash, and asparagus spears in a 425 degree oven, or until golden and crisp. Boiled green beans in salted water for two minutes, or until tender. Roast beets for an hour, then peel and quarter. Boil new potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes, or until tender.

—Let everything cool, and set aside.

—Other vegetables, like tomatoes, carrots, and fennel, will be better raw, and just require a good washing and trimming.

—Using the largest platter you can find (and you may need two or three platters depending on number of ingredients used), and keeping each ingredient separate (don’t mix them together!), artfully arrange the various ingredients on a platter in heaping clusters.

—Spoon aïoli into a small dish and place at the center of platter.

—Serve immediately, and with a bottle of cool, crisp Provencal rosé (I love bottles from Château de Pibarnon, Domaine Tempier, and Domaine Du Gros’Noré).

COMFORT FOOD FOR ONE

Thank you to everyone that came out to see my talk with R. Stevie Moore yesterday with POP Montreal. It was seriously so fun, really a thrill to interview such a music legend and favorite of mine. Now I can finally relax and enjoy the other stuff — today, Preservation Society selling goodies (like cream puffs and pop tarts!) at Puces POP, and my friend Hisham Mayet will be manning the Sublime Frequencies table at the Record Fair. It’s a beautiful day to spend some cash! Anyway, here’s my recipe for one of my favorite comfort food dishes, dal. I often make this for myself and eat the remainders from the pot for days afterwards. It’s great for breakfast or lunch — I had mine this morning with crispy oven-roasted potatoes.

Quick Dal

[Notes: I always prefer to toast my own spices whole, then pulverize up in my coffee grinder. But I'm still working through the Indian spices I brought back from Singapore last year, and those are already in powder form. But use seeds if you wish!]

1 cup red lentils, washed and picked through for stones
4 cups vegetable broth (again, I keep homemade reserves in our freezer, it really makes a difference!)
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
2 small shallots, chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon hot curry powder
2 tablespoons butter (ghee if you have it, I didn’t have the patience to make it — I just wanted to eat!)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 lemon, juiced (this is optional, but I love the tang the juice brings)
Avocado oil
salt, pepper

—In a large enamel-coasted cast iron pot, heat butter and avocado oil over low to medium heat. Add shallots and tomato paste and cook until tender.
—Add minced garlic, ginger and all spices. Stir until fragrant, one minute.
—Add rinsed lentils and stir to coat, 30 seconds.
—Add vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.
—Cook lentils until tender, about 30 minutes. Should happen pretty fast! Add more water if pot starts to look dry.
—Salt and pepper as needed, and taste. The dal should be tender and almost like a porridge.
—Serve with rice, cilantro (I was all out!), and a squeeze of lemon.

On Starting With Gougères

My friend Katherine recently planted a terrific idea in my brain.

“Can we please eat lobsters and drink white Burgundy together? Like, soon?” It was like I had never heard of a more amazing idea in my life.

Fast forward one week and five grocery trips later, and Adam and I were confronted with a refrigerator bursting forth with eight lobsters and nine bottles of white wine. Conceptually, we decided on a menu that melded both classic Burgundian and traditional American techniques — kinda like me and Adam, actually.

This is what we came up with:

Champagne with raspberry syrup // Gougères  // Smoked salmon with crème fraîche, lemon and cucumber

Wilted pea shoots + baby swiss chard + garlic // Richard Olney’s 45-minute scrambled eggs with fava beans + garlic sourdough rye croutons

Boiled lobster with tarragon butter + garlic-scallion butter + green peppercorns // Boiled new potatoes with scallions + walnut vinaigrette

Peach tart with fresh pastry cream //

The night was magical, and I’ll share all the recipes in the next few days, starting with the gougères, a savory choux pastry — picture a French cheese puff — traditionally made with milk, cheese, flour, salt, and egg. (I’ve also seen variations that use white pepper or Dijon mustard). Gougères are often made with salty Gruyère, but you could use Comté or emmenthaler, too. They’re an indisputably classic — and irresistible — French hors d’oeuvre, and happen to pair spectacularly with white Burgundy, and even champagne. Though I loosely followed an old Saveur recipe, Dorie Greenspan’s iteration looks lovely, too. The finished gougères are a thing to behold — light to the touch, and even lighter in the mouth. And they couldn’t be simpler to make.

Makes 3 dozen. Adapted from here.

Saveur’s Gougères

8 T butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
Salt
1 cup AP flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups grated gruyère cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water and butter in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add salt. Bring to a boil and remove pan from heat when butter has melted.

2. Dump in flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the batter pulls away from the sides of the pan. (This took less than a minute for me; it should happen very quickly).

3. Return pan to heat for one minute, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

4. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Make sure dough is smooth after each addition — it should look shiny and slick, and very thick.

5. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese until well combined.

6. Scoop spoonfuls of batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and brush each puff with a bit of milk, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese.

7. Bake 20 minutes, or until golden and light. Serve immediately.

Jerk Chicken: It’s Not Just Heat

[All photos by Allen McInnis, courtesy of the Gazette] After alluding to it here, and after countless hours tinkering around in my kitchen and on my grill, I’m so stoked to finally share my story (and recipe!) on jerk chicken. I really wanted my jerk recipe to seem super approachable for the home chef, and it’s really as simple as spinning a marinade around in a blender, and exercising some patience while the meat barbecues super slowly and gently. The results are almost as good as anything I had in Jamaica, and I was thrilled with how it came out. I plan on making it all summer long!

Read the full story in today’s Montreal Gazette!

Also, wondering about my rad apron? It was designed by my dear friend Meredith Towsand. I love mine and wear it all the time.

And finally, thanks to Cheryl (whose blog I adore) for the wonderful mention in Simple Lovely Blog! What greater pleasure is there in the world than to inspire each other?

THROUGH THE SKIES FOR YOU

Roasting an entire chicken has always eluded me. It always seemed so intimidating and out of my reach. No more, friends!

So, I recently cooked dinner for my dear friend James.

I stuffed a 5lb organic, free range chicken with fresh bay, thyme, lemon quarters, and an entire head of garlic. I smeared the outside with half a stick of butter and placed it on top of carrots, potatoes and red onion.

I roasted a bot of golden beets, sliced them into medallions, and set them against a bed of fresh spinach, roasted almonds and 4 cups of green French lentils that I had simmered for 40 minutes with lemons and broth.

After 90 minutes in a 425 oven, et voila! Perfection.

Seriously, perfect. I shed a single tear of joy. (For the record, I used Ina Garten’s chicken recipe. She knows what’s UP).

And then sobbed into my plate. I mean, WHAT? IS? THAT?

The next day I made chicken broth with the carcass, but for dinner I had the rest of the salad.

It was all so easy and good that I’m roasting another chicken tomorrow night in celebration of the final season of LOST.

GOODBYE, SUMMER. CORN, AND BEANS.

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i’ve finally come to terms with the fact that summer is basically over. i wake up, and the air is cold and i instinctively want to huddle under my warm comforter for as long as possible. joni sidles up right next to me – under the covers and everything – and we spoon for a few blissful moments before i wake up fully and start my day. the air is sharp and clear and already has a scent of the fall harvest upon it. there’s less and less melon, berries and leafy greens at the farmers and more late summer squash and tomatoes. at a recent market i picked up a few fat ears of corn at 25 cents apiece and a quart of supple wax beans.

green bean, sweet corn and shallot saute with lemon

  • 1 quart green beans, ends picked clean and rinsed
  • 2 ears corn, shucked and sliced up
  • 2 small-ish shallots, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup israeli couscous
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • copious salt and pepper

parboil beans in salted water for 2 minutes. set in ice bath and set aside.

heat up skillet with equal amounts olive oil and butter (about 1 tbsp ea). fry shallots, 4-5 minutes. add beans, stir. 3-4 minutes. add garlic and corn to heat through.

squeeze juice of one lemon atop the glorious tangle of vegetables and stir. the corn will likely give off liquid, as will the shallots, creating a wonderful slurry of citric acid, sweet corn sugars and the warm b bite of the shallots.

add pinch red pepper flakes and salt and pepper, to taste. cook couscous according to package directions. eat with warm and crusty farmer’s market bread and some good local cheese. preferrably a sharp cheddar.

that’s it. so easy it’s stupid. obviously, the fresher and better the ingredients, the more effective this dish becomes. you can tweak it a million ways — i love doing a slow braise with beans using roma tomatoes, garlic and white wine. i love this corn/shallot combination in brothy soups with kale. you could sub out any of these vegetables for whatever is in season. add goat cheese for decadence, nuts for texture. plop a piece of roasted salmon on top of the whole mess, or fold in some shredded chicken or a can of navy beans. cilantro would have been amazing here, or using orange zest to finish it off. you get the idea.

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NOM NOM NOM LENTILS NOM

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i’ve been traveling so much lately there’s been very little time for homecooking. or if i make an effort, it’s something super fast like a chopped salad, glass noodles, or pan-fried fish.

i was forced to slow down last week when i caught a nasty cold. i felt inspired to make a gigantic pot of lentil soup, based around a lovely bag of organic french lentils purchased from friends at ludgate farms. usually i prefer my lentils in dal form, with tumeric and nutmeg, and over rice.

but a few hours later, my kitchen smelled fantastic. and a few minutes after that, my stomach felt wonderful and i felt a million times better. therapeutic soup, this is! it was incredibly delicious, filling, healthy and restorative. much more substantial than your traditional chicken noodle, but probably even healthier, what with all the crazy legume action.

i know this soup doesn’t look like much – but trust me, this is an annual winter dinner standby. easy to make if you have the time. i had it for lunch every day in the next 3 days and it just gets better as the hours tick on.

i used:

  • 2 cups french (brown) lentils (they’ll hold their shape better)
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth + water to add in case
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 3 carrots, roughly diced
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 ear of fresh corn, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced finely
  • 1 heaping tbsp each of cumin, smoked paprika, herbs de provence, oregano
  • 22oz diced red tomatoes
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 sage leaves
  • salt and pepper

and that’s it! next time, i might use less lentils. this made so much i had to keep adding water so it didn’t turn into dal or whatever.

saute onion, carrots and spices in a crock pot with equal amounts butter and olive oil (i used about 1 tbsp of each) until soft. about 10 mins.

add two cups of lentils (picked over for stones, and rinsed) and stir. add garlic and stir. add can of tomatoes. stir. bring to a rolling boil.

add juice of half lemon, then throw in rind. add bay leaves, stir. add 4 cups chicken broth and cover.

the lentils will take anywhere between 30-45 minutes to cook, depending on the heat and your preference. i like mine to give ever so slightly, and still feel firm. this took about 40 minutes. i lost a lot of liquid in the cooking process, and probably added 2 more cups of water to the pot overall.

add in chopped broccoli florets and simmer for about 20-25 mins.

at the end, throw in the corn and heat through. squeeze juice of other lemon in, and stir.

serve with toasted, crusty bread. i had a leftover baguette end and it was perfect.

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