When one of my sons was five, a friend who made hand-painted sweatshirts asked him what he liked. He told her, and received a white sweatshirt with "J'aime la vinaigrette" on the front.
With more fresh vegetables available by the week, I once again appreciate an assertive vinaigrette; just a scant teaspoon drizzled over blanched vegetables lifts a plate.
There is no real recipe, just a general proportion of 3 parts oil (I like cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil) to 1 part vinegar (of medium strength), and salt, pepper, mustard, wine and chopped herbs according to taste. The teaspoon or so of mustard helps emulsify the oil and vinegar, and a clove of peeled, minced garlic is a pungent delight.
Mayonnaise is the next stop on the oil-and-vinegar pleasure tour, and if you have practiced basic emulsification on vinaigrette, creating this magical suspension is easy. You will never eat the bland gunk in the supermarket jar again. You have to finesse it a bit, slow and steady, and don't make it in an impending thunderstorm- that old tale is true. The humidity makes emulsification impossible.
Here's a great illustrated recipe that walks you through the simple steps: How to Make Mayonnaise.
Can there be something better? Yes, aioli.
This mayonnaise, laden with a very generous lashing of fresh garlic, is superb with vegetables, chicken or fish.
To make aioli, pop four or five (peeled) and very finely chopped cloves of garlic in with the eggs and vinegar (or lemon juice) before you start adding the oil. It’s that simple.
"This is so good we should share it!"
In Provence, grand aioli (or aioli monstre) parties happen in summer, but you can do an one just as successfully in spring, and to me it's even more heartening to see all those beautiful vegetables right now. The party is easy to prepare because everything can be done ahead and is intended to be served room temperature.
The attitude is like a picnic: set a long table simply, and prepare for an festive time. In southern France, you show up with your plate and cutlery, pay your fee, grab a chair, and dig in. The appetizers are bowls of olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced hard sausage, roasted almonds; keep it light.
For the grand aioli, serve heaping, colourful platters of raw, grilled or blanched vegetables. (Asparagus, zucchini, carrots, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, beets- really you can use anything.)
Sometimes sauteéd chick peas (in olive oil, bay leaf, garlic and herbs) are on the platter. And more platters: boiled new potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, roasted chicken or fish (poached salt cod or salmon is traditional). I've also seen shrimp, calmari, mussels and tiny snails offered on the platter.
Strew baguettes and many bowls of aioli about the table. Provide rafts of rosé and carafes of water. (I had to add that water part just to sound responsible.)
Guests fill their plate with a bit of everything, and add dollops of aioli for dipping. Fingers are fine!
Our dinners have been so enthusiastically received that Le Duc has to repair to the kitchen to make more aioli, which is harder after a few glasses of rosé.
Dessert is simple; I like to serve fruit gelato and homemade almond cookies.
A warm, relaxed and memorable party for people who love garlic. (You could always make a few bowls of tarragon mayo for anyone who doesn't eat it.)