Le Grand Aioli Assemblage, June 7, 2015
NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have adventuresome friends. Some we’ve begun to refer to as “The Intrepids,” as you know from the blog post about our daring a wild autumnal Nor’easter at the easternmost point of Island Beach. Others have dared arrive to eat and bring aspects of Le Choucroute Garnie of Alsace, and Le Cassoulet de Toulouse. At this March feast, we planned Le Grand Aioli for June.
The guests change somewhat, depending on travels and even surgery. However, each fully earns the Intrepid title, never more than last weekend.
I salute their courage because, with all three feasts, there’s no way I can know or really alter the outcome. All involve long, traditional processes. Each process is transformative — the whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Creating aioli gave me the chance to be my Provencal self again, when I lived in a villa high above Cannes from October 1987 through August 1988.
Every guest becomes amazingly caught up in these quests, going to great extremes of research and search for authentic ingredients for each part of the meal. They find recipes on line for me (who prefers cookbooks, but can never read too much about food.) They go with me on the wine quests. They’re amazing!
Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk, formed the Original Intrepids of Island Beach. My co-author of the Stuart Country Day School book, Carolyn Yoder, became an Intrepid, as you’ve seen on the Williamstown trail trip; Valerie Meluskey, whose wilingness to travel, especially to France, and also to eat just about anything, has been my friend since the 70’s. Everyone knows the gastronomic courage of Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian, food writers and critics par excellence. So we were seven.
The wines were roses de Provence, two from Joe Canal’s, one from Trader Joe’s, the darker the better — which is no longer chic, but quite essential for aioli.
I forgot to take pictures of the champagne hour, provided by Carolyn Yoder — Charles de Marques from Champlat, France. That with simple very fresh nuts, especially almonds, was the only appropriate precursor to something as rich and profoundly Provencal as aioli.
Few words will follow. Many scenes will show you the genesis of Le Grand Aioli, on a perfect late spring Sunday afternoon.
Of course, I should have been making this in my long-lost marble mortar, with its handsome, sturdy pestle of olive wood. Alas… I made two batches — four eggs each, and however much olive oil each would transform into the sublime mixture. More than a cup and a half, but not two cups…
With each Confrerie supper, we had a paired liqueur with dessert. With the strawberries, I wanted a Provencal delight, oft made at home: eau de vie de prune. This sounds ghastly – but means what the Swiss call plumliwasser, or essence of plums.
My Plan B had been Le Vieux Marc de Provence. I could find recipes to distill this rustic cognac-like elixir at home in my Provencal kitchen. However, not the most esoteric nor the most bountifully provisioned wine and liqueur stores here in and around Princeton could come up with Marc.
Trader Joe’s to the rescue with Armagnac — the French would have this, also distilled of leftovers of the grape processing. It was a curiously appropriate rose color, and full but not overpowering.
Even Carolyn Yoder’s generous champagne –(also Trader Joe’s – she took me with her to find it)– had turned out to have the faintest hint of rose.
When Pat found the white asparagus (so rare, so Europe!) at Wegman’s, no one could tell her the price. Finally, the manager arrived with a question (as she was thinking it could be $20) — “How about 99 cents?” Of course, her response had been, “I’ll take it.”
We didn’t tell anyone about the octopus, and kept it covered til everyone was a table. It was a great hit, occasioning oo’s and ah’s and very nearly finished. Faith took the rest home to craft a light and elegant octopus stew, as only she and Pat could do. Whoever heard of leftover octopus?
As you can see, a fine time was had by all.
Aioli was then shared with Tasha O’Neill, my dear photographer friend, the very next day. The ingredients served me for a pretty meal:
My dear former Kingston friend, Janet Black, here all weekend for hikes this weekend, found beautiful carrots of many colors, and ‘cheddar cauliflower’, on a farm market stop in Pennington. I peeled but did not cook the carrots. I reheated Valerie’s magnificent roasted vegetables, which had resembled the rose window at Chartres. And Janet and I feasted on the last of the aioli. We tried the items also with Hollandaise — interesting contrast. Either would do – but not both, normally.
The main point of the Confrerie dinners is always fellowhip.
The main gift is memory.