Friday, July 10, 2009

Eat Your Vegetables

So now, all you who dwell in northern climes, as we do, I suggest you fix this picture firmly in mind, to recall come next February, say, because one thing that is certain is that we will not be eating like this then. So fix picture in mind, then take that mental image down to your local farmers' market, or out to your garden, and gather the makings of this assiette de crudités served with a glistening bowl of aioli, Provencal garlic mayonnaise (I'm a bit pendantic about aioli, as can be seen

The vegetables for dipping or slathering in the aioli should be whatever ones are fresh and appealing. On our platter, the yellow summer squash, zucchini, and radishes were raw, the green beans, snow peas, and carrots were blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes, dunked into ice water to stop the cooking, then drained very well. I like to serve them at room temperature, not cold.

We served this as a first course, though of course you can make it the main event, as it usually is in Provence. In that case some kind of protein is usually part of the meal--chicken, beef, fish or other seafood, or all of the above. Boiled potatoes are also a common component, and with beautiful new potatoes in the market now, you should certainly go for those. Other vegetables you might add to the platter: fennel bulb, celery sticks, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cauliflower, beets--whatever you like, whatever you think will be enhanced by a freshly made aioli pungent with the season's first garlic, like...cardboard, or shoe leather....

I make my aioli by hand, though you can make it in a blender, as well. Any decent Mediterranean cookbook should have a recipe for aioli. My favorite Provencal cookbook--one of my favorite cookbooks, period--is Mireille Johnston's
Cuisine of the Sun .

Here's my basic mayonnaise recipe. Add finely minced garlic at the end, according to taste and tolerance. I like about three good cloves for this amount of mayonnaise. Your Provencal grandmère would make this with a mortar and pestle, and I've done that a couple of times, but I find the whisk method generally more convenient.

1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp dry mustard, or 1 tsp dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
couple pinches salt
3/4 cup oil--half olive, half canola, or all olive
finely minced garlic to taste

In a bowl about 10 inches in diameter, whisk together the egg yolk and mustard. Whisking continually, steadily, but not furiously, begin to add the oil VERY VERY slowly, a couple of drops at a time to start with; this is tedious but necessary to keep the mayo from splitting. If you're not practiced at this, it will help to have someone else adding the oil at first while you whisk. Once you see the mayonnaise beginning to thicken, you can add the oil a little more quickly, a slow steady stream--but you never want to just glug it in. The final consistency depends on adding the oil slowly and steadily.

When the mayonnaise starts to thicken, it may become too thick to whisk easily. Squeeze in a little lemon juice to loosen it, continue adding oil, whisking, adding lemon juice to loosen the mayo and to taste, until you've added all the oil. Add a couple good pinches salt, and the minced garlic. Allow to sit in the fridge for at least a half hour for all the flavors to meld.

We served our first-course aioli assiette with crusty bread and a rosé from the south of France, and we had delightful friends to share it with, and one of them was even French, and didn't that just add to the Gallic zest of the evening! It was good.

Another night we tossed together most of the same ingredients with a simple creamy dressing. The chopped summer salad consisted of boiled new potatoes, snap peas, summer squash, carrots, sliced radishes, purple onions and that first green garlic from the market, some dill and thyme from the garden, a nice combination. Everything was raw except the potatoes. Mix this up an hour or two in advance to let everything settle well together.

Lemon-Mayo Dressing for Summer Chopped Salad

1/4 cup mayonnaise (you could make your own, but I used Hellmann's)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 heaping tsp dijon mustard
pinch piment d'espelette or cayenne

Mix all, toss with veg. It was little bit gloopy, but I wanted it that way. We served it with grilled lobster. I know they're not native to Minnesota's waters; sue me.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

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