The #1 Cooking Group celebrates four years of kitchen camraderie next week, with a traditional fête. Well, maybe not totally traditional, but we've taken inspiration from the villages of Provence, where whole towns come together to celebrate the various saints of the villages.
The idea of our Grand Aioli was born of the desire to give the men in our group an opportunity to cook together and to experience the fun, the sense of accomplishment, and...yes...the bonding that characterizes Ninecooks group cooking. Most in our regular cooking group are women; their spouses come to eat and wash the dishes while the cooks relax after the meal.
Once a year, however, the men take over the kitchen, grilling fish and chicken, steaming shellfish, sautéeing beans and roasting vegetables (some from our own gardens), while the women make aioli sauce in the old way, with a mortar and pestle. It's a slow process, so all of the women take turns grinding the salt and garlic, incorporating the egg and olive oil a little bit at a time, emulsifying the aioli into a thick, glossy garlic mayonnaise.
What’s a grand aioli? Nothing more than a giant potluck, really. Aioli (from the words ail – garlic – and oli, the Provencal word for oil) is both the sauce, and the celebration.
Fishermen bring their catch; farmers contribute potatoes and vegetables, lamb and chicken. The village baker brings some baguettes. Some common additions in Provence would include chick peas, salt cod, octopus or squid. (Instead of salt cod, we’ll use fresh cod or halibut.) We'll use herbs and vegetables from our own gardens. The point is to celebrate locally available products, and add whatever you enjoy.
Nobel-price winning poet Frederic Mistral wrote: “Aioli concentrates in its very essence the warmth, the force, the sunny happiness of Provence, but it also has another virtue: it keeps away flies. Those who don’t like it, whose stomachs turn at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us. There will be just the family. The aioli goes to one’s head, gives the body warmth, and bathes the soul with enthusiasm.”
That's our plan.