It takes a village to eat as much garlic as The #1 Cooking Group ate last night at our annual Grand Aioli.
Three entire heads of garlic gave their life so we could enjoy one amazing dinner: a rich garlic-laden aioli sauce, ground by hand in mortars and pestles by the women of our village, and platters of fish and shellfish, chicken, vegetables and olives cooked and assembled by the men of our village.
We had it all, and it was grand indeed.
Le Grand Aioli is the annual celebration of the original nine cooks, a group of men and women that has been cooking, learning and laughing together for four years. Last summer we decided to mark the anniversary with a feast in the Provencal style.
Most of the time when we cook (every 5-7 weeks), it's the women who take over the kitchen; the men come later in the evening, to eat and wash the dishes. At Le Grand Aioli, the men get their chance to cook together, and the women arrive later to grind the aioli and set the long table on the porch.
In the best of village traditions, our menu doesn't change much from year to year. Here's what we make, with contributions from our gardens and the local farmers' markets:
- Roasted scrod, cod or halibut
- Grilled salmon
- Cold boiled shrimp
- Mussels steamed in white wine, shallots and herbs
- Grilled chicken breast
- Roasted new potatoes with fennel and zucchini
- Sautéed artichoke hearts
- Steamed broccoli
- Grilled red, yellow and orange peppers
- Chickpeas, cooked with garlic and herbs
- Sautéd green beans or haricot verts
- Grilled asparagus
- Raw carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes, with lemon vinaigrette
- Grilled sliced baguettes, brushed with olive oil and garlic (yes, more garlic!)
- Olives — of course!
All of these goodies are dipped into our amazing hand-ground aioli, a mayonnaise made with farm eggs, coarse Portuguese sea salt, a whole head of garlic, and the best olive oil. We've tried several recipes for the aioli (including one made in a food processor with saffron and a touch of sugar), but the one we like best is this olive-oil stained version:
1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and slightly crushed
2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
pinch coarse sea salt
2 cups olive oil (at room temperature)
1-2 teaspoons water
In a heavy stone mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt together into a paste. Add egg yolks and stir until they are light in color. Slowly, drop by drop, begin to incorporate the olive oil, turning the pestle constantly. As the mixture begins to thicken, add the oil a little faster, always turning the pestle. When it is quite thick, add the water to loosen it. Continue mixing until the oil is completely mixed in. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
It takes 45 minutes or more to make the aioli by hand, which means all of the women take a turn with the pestle. It's a leisurely process that encourages conversation, laughter, tasting, drinking, singing — and sometimes dancing!
The reward is a feast of Provencal proportions, enjoyed on the Ninecooks porch at a long table, under candle chandeliers. Bottles of wine and Perrier, and a music mix designed by Ted especially for Le Grand Aioli, created the perfect atmosphere, and the weather cooled just enough to remind us of a summer evening in Provence.
It was a perfect end to our fourth year of cooking together. We missed Jessica and Bart, who at the last minute could not be there, but in all other respects Le Grand Aioli was...well...grand.