Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aioli: Garlic Mayonnaise for Roasted Vegetables

While I had tasted aioli, a rich freshly made garlic and olive oil mayonnaise, occasionally over the years, it was not until eating at a small Italian restaurant with my daughter Anna in Benin, where she was in the Peace Corps, that I came to appreciate it. This seemingly simple but earthy sauce so enhanced plain old fried potatoes that, in that country where food options are so limited, what we ate that night was stunningly exciting.

Aioli is reputed to have originated in Provence, on the Mediterranean coast of France. (Aioli in the Proven├žal language, derived from Latin, comes from 'ahl' garlic and 'oli', oil.) It is served to enhance fish, vegetables, bread, and even soup, throughout the western Mediterranean, including Spain, France, and Italy. Aioli is simple to make using a food processor or blender, unlike with the traditional marble or ceramic mortar and wooden pestle, which required incorporating the olive oil drop by drop.

I'm giving the example of roasted beets, because they make such great appetizers. But potatoes or sweet potatoes can be prepared the same way. The roasted beets, seasoned with Mediterranean spices and easily made, make an elegant excuse for eating aioli.

Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise) with Roasted Beets

Aioli:
2 medium cloves of garlic
1 small egg or the equivalent of 'Egg Beater' (which is pasteurized)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola or peanut oil

Place the garlic, egg or 'Egg Beater', lemon juice, and salt in the container of a blender or food processor (preferably with a small sized container so that the mixture is well beaten). Puree by pulsing, and scrape down the inside of the container with a spatula. With the blade turning, add a few drops of olive oil to the mixture. Then pouring in a very thin stream, slowly add the rest of the olive oil. Scrape the sides and bottom of the container several times during this process to be sure the oil is not collecting on the bottom. Then add the other oil in a thin stream until fully incorporated. It may be necessary to transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the last portion of the oil. Taste a bit of the aioli, and add salt if necessary. The flavor is improved by sitting, covered, in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour or more.

Place the aioli in a small bowl to serve. The surface may be dusted with a tiny bit of minced parsley, if desired.

Beets:
1-1/2 pounds red or yellow beets, of similar size
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano, crumbled between the fingers
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the beets. Cut into pieces about 1-1/2 inches large. (Be careful, they stain.) Rinse the beets and drain, but do not dry. Place in a large bowl. Mix the salt and dry seasonings. Sprinkle the mixture over the cut beets, and then toss to coat them evenly. Pour in the olive oil and toss again to coat evenly.

Roast the beets on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan with a little space between the pieces. Bake, turning several times with a spatula, until tender inside when pierced with a cake tester or fork (30 to 35 minutes).

Serve hot or warm accompanied by a small dish of aioli.

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