Monday, June 27, 2011

Basil Love

I maintain that I am not--nor have I ever been-- a fan of mayonnaise. Its gloopy, gelatinous consistency always makes me shudder when I watch beloved friends and family members enthusiastically spreading their sandwiches with the stuff. I just sit there thinking cautiously, "Are you sure you want to do that?" Needless to say, I'm a mustard girl all the way. There is, however, one particular loophole in my one-woman campaign against mayonnaise and that, my friends, is the mighty aioli.

Aioli is in a completely different realm, a different stratosphere if you will, to the humble old mayo. Good aioli is a somewhat thinner consistency, infinitely silkier, deliciously dippable and much more flavorful than its distant relative. It's balanced, but packs a punch and can lend its charms an incredibly wide range of dishes. I can imagine that this aioli would be completely awesome in a BLT, on a summery tomato salad, or a potato salad while I'm at it. It would be heavenly alongside some nice grilled fish, calamari, steamed artichoke or asparagus...I could go on. Really, this recipe is a vehicle for basil--lovely, fragrant, delicate, summery basil. A clove of garlic and a good squeeze of lemon compliment the basil nicely and round out the flavor, but really, the basil is the star here.

I served this aioli along with some nice, cool crudite and plain boiled new potatoes as an appetizer when some friends came over on Saturday evening. I can be honest and say that it was devoured within minutes. The fact that you can make it with an immersion blender and a jar just makes it just that much easier--no dead arm from endless whisking, and minimal clean-up. I plan on making it again real soon.

Basil Aioli (makes about 3/4 cup)


2 medium egg yolks or 1 large one
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Pinch salt
1 scant teaspoon dijon mustard
1 medium-sized clove of garlic, minced
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup of basil leaves, packed

Directions: Place the egg yolk(s) in a smallish wide-mouthed jar--it should be small enough that the egg yolks cover the bottom, but not so small you can't fit the blender in there--I used my smallest pyrex jug. Blitz the egg yolk with your immersion blender on low speed for about 15 seconds. Add a pinch of salt, the lemon juice and the garlic. Blend that for about 30 seconds on high speed or until you're confident you've got everything completely incorporated. Now begin to add the oil drop by drop, ensuring that each addition is completely incorporated before you continue. Seriously: Drop. By. Drop.--this is a really important step that cannot be rushed or you will end up with an eggy, oily mess rather than a stable emulsion. Once the aioli is looking smooth after four or five additions of oil, and it has become pale in color and the oil is being easily incorporated, you can start adding the oil a bit more liberally, in a thin stream until you're happy with what you've got. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You may find that the consistency gets a little thicker than you would like, in which case you can add a splash of water (or more lemon juice if necessary) to thin it out. Finally, cram the basil leaves in the jar and whiz away until you've got a beautiful green, smooth aioli.

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