Recipe: Maionese all’Aglio
I find that there gets to be something frantic in the air around mid-May. For some it may be the approach of hurricane season, or plain spring fever; for me it is vegetables. They are so ephemeral. The best produce is here today and gone tomorrow, like fresh spring garlic, garlic that is so nascent it hasn’t even formed its cloves yet. You slice it like a scallion, and it releases a strong aroma, but its taste is sweet, without a trace of bitterness. If you miss it, you don’t have another chance at it for an entire year. I find it at the Greenmarket the first, second week of May. This year I seem to have missed the really young stuff (not quite sure how that happened). The bunches I found were not those skinniest bulbless stalks but ones just a bit more mature, beginning to form cloves but not yet with any skin over the cloves, so I could slice them straight through into thin rounds. Actually, I’ve found that those are when young garlic at its best and juiciest.
When fresh garlic is in season, I crave garlic mayonnaise. Aioli is its name in French. The Italians call it maionese all’aglio. You can get fresh garlic in New York throughout the summer. It matures and forms cloves as the season progresses, but it stays wonderful. It is hard-necked, recognizable by a firm stalk that runs up through its center. It doesn’t dry well, so you can’t store it like the papery and often bitter soft-neck varieties you find in grocery stores year round. If you try to dry it, it just rots. So you’ll only be eating it fresh. It does take on a stronger flavor as it matures, developing full cloves and a thicker skin, but it continues to be heaven. I look for the purple-tinged Italian rocambole variety. It’s lovely and has a good kick.
When I make my maionese all’aglio, I don’t add a huge amount of garlic. You’ll find Provençal recipes that include an entire head or more of mature garlic. I’m not really sure how anyone can really eat that. I’d guess you need to be a boules-playing, pastis-slugging 80-year-old to get it down. Gauge the maturity of the fresh garlic you’ve got to determine how much you want to use. If it’s really young and looks like scallions, chopping up two (including some of the tender stalk) will give you good flavor. If you’ve got small heads, like I had, with cloves just starting to form, you might want to use an entire small head. If the cloves are fully formed, you’ll need to peel them, and you’ll probably do well by using two big cloves. But of course it’s a matter of taste. I like my mayo somewhat mild. If you prefer otherwise, go for it. Also I like a mix of fruity olive oil and a more neutral vegetable oil, as opposed to the more Mediterranean approach, which uses all olive oil. I find that a little strong.
This sweet but powerful mayo is excellent on blanched asparagus, grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, grilled sardines, and lots of other things. Last night I tried it on a rare burger, and I have to tell you, that really makes a great combination. Resist the temptation to add cheese to your burger. The mayo stands alone. And it seemed somehow more appropriate to do an open burger, on a toasted piece of Italian bread brushed with olive oil—a knife and fork experience. I draped an anchovy over the mayo for an added kick.
Spring garlic, well chopped (see my remarks above about how much you might want to use)
A generous pinch of sea salt
2 extra large egg yolks
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (something light and fruity)
½ cup neutral vegetable oil
The juice from about ½ a lemon
Put the garlic and the salt in the bowl of a medium-size food processor. Pulse until well chopped. Add the egg yolks. Process until the yolks are light in color and the garlic is well blended. Start adding the oil through the top funnel in a very slow stream. If you add too much at first, the maionese may break on you. You want the egg yolks to absorb the oil, and that will only happen if you have a slow hand. Keep adding the oil slowly. After a minute or so you’ll notice that it will have started to catch, and the mayo will thicken. You can now add oil a little faster, but still you should do so in a steady stream. Add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice from time to time if the mayo gets very thick and starts bumping the machine. When you’ve used up all your oil, you should have a nice thick but fluffy consistency. Try not to add too much lemon juice, or you’ll risk making it too thin.
You can use the mayo right away or keep it refrigerated for about a day, but I find that after a day it starts losing some flavor.