It was my lovely brother Alex who pointed out that you cannot find good aioli in America. He pointed this out while filling our grocery cart with aioli, which is sold in little tubs for about a Euro apiece. I wondered how he’d ever go through it all, but it turns out that I underestimated the culinary genius of my little brother.
Which I should never do. This is the boy who, at age 8, demanded that mum pick up some Grand Marnier because he wanted to make crepes suzette for breakfast. Who at 9 made the best tiramisu north of Hadrian’s wall (and quite possibly south of it all the way until the Italian border). I’d just forgotten about this, ever since I visited him in college and he made me ‘pasta a la Alex’: a bowl full of fussili, drenched in canned marinara. You see why I forgot…
And it was only mid-way to Ibiza, when Alex disappeared below deck and re-appeared with a plate full of sandwiches that I started to realise that the whole ‘pasta a la Alex’ thing must have been a joke. A not-funny-to-anyone-but-him joke. An Altman joke. The kind of joke my dad would play when he’d cook us dinner, and we’d only realise halfway through eating it that he wasn’t eating any, and we’d get suspicious and look in the soup pot and find a sock and a banana peel floating there innocently… or like how I had friends over for a dinner party and only told them afterwards that they’d just eaten buffalo heart. Yep, pasta a la Alex was an Alex-ism. And boy, can my little brother cook.
Sandwich a la Alex is simple. You need good aioli. You need a nice crusty loaf of bread. Some nice prosciutto. And August tomatoes- August tomatoes are key because any other month of the year they’re just ok. It’s only in August that you (I?) wonder why people don’t write songs to the tomato, and start to compose your own while you’re (I’m?) doing the dishes. And that’s it. Four ingredients. Which brings me back to the grocery store, and aioli. It’s hard to find good aioli in America. The easiest way to find it is to make your own. And it’s really surprisingly simple. All you need is a blender or a mechanical whisk or some kind. Or if you’re brave and strong, a hand whisk, or even a fork. For the recipe, I turned to Elizabeth David, who always knows what to do when I don’t.
From Elizabeth David. Serves, well, quite a lot.
4 cloves garlic (fresh, not old and nasty and bitter)
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup olive oil
2 egg yolks.
If you have a blender, use it. If not then an electric whisk of some kind would do after mashing the garlic up really well. If not then I hope you have strong arms…
In a blender:
Throw in the garlic, lemon and salt. Blend until it’s completely pulverised, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Blend until it starts to thicken- this might be a couple of minutes, and you might have to scrape it down a lot- then start to add the olive oil, in a very thin stream. Keep stopping and scraping it down if you have to, and add oil until it won’t incorporate itself anymore (thin stream helps so you can stop it immediately after). Taste. Add more lemon juice or salt if you need to.
With a whisk or strong hand:
Make sure the garlic is completely pulverised then proceed as above. If you’re doing it by hand it might take quite a while to thicken. I’ve done this with whipping cream by gathering a group of unsuspecting people and handing it off for a few minutes at a time. If they get tired then insult their manhood and they’ll keep going…
Traditionally aioli is served with vegetables and bread for dipping. You can also use it to make an unconventional and seriously delicious tuna salad (you don’t need anything except tuna and aioli).
Sandwich a la Alex
1 chunk french bread
1 lovely ripe tomato
Cut the bread in half lengthways. Spread both sides thickly with aioli. On one side lay slices of tomatoes, and on the other lay a layer of prosciutto. Slap the two together and enjoy!