Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Meal for Midsummer's Eve

So we had a bar mitzvah last weekend. And fed somewhere around 100 people. There were bagels with whitefish salad, huge pans of spanakopita, quinoa salad, fruit, green salad, and hundreds cookies, nearly everything cooked by friends just for us. The night before the bar mitzvah, a very dear friend brought us a delicious Shabbat dinner of moussaka, asparagus, and tiny jewel-like pastries among other delights, with a spare pan of moussaka just in case. We've been eating well on all these leftovers and only last night did I really get around to cooking a proper meal after finally cleaning out the refrigerator.

There were lots of reasons to make something truly memorable. Our very dear friends are still staying with us, and not only was it Friday night which always calls for a special dinner, but it was also the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. The weather was lovely enough that I decided it was time to haul the trusty old Weber kettle out of the garage even though we're not big grill people. Maybe it's that we eat so little meat. And, honestly, it's kind of pain. We never seem to have charcoal on hand which wouldn't be such a big deal except that I won't eat food that tastes like gasoline so only Lazzari will do. Luckily it's easier to find than it used to be. And it seems to take forever to get enough heat to cook, after which the fire seems to fade all too quickly. Really, a big production and yet only the grill would do.

The meal I had in mind is a summer favorite of mine: grilled vegetables with a basil aïoli. I confess that my usual approach to this tasty sauce has been to mix crushed basil and garlic in to store bought mayonnaise but, perhaps feeling a bit too full of myself, I decided yesterday was the day to make my own from scratch. I started using Mark Bittman's basic mayonnaise recipe from this book, met with utter failure, and saved it using Deborah Madison's instructions from this book. Despite a few pitfalls and blender-induced temporary hearing loss, in the end I had a beautiful, velvety and perfectly emulsified sauce that made the grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sing. To complete our feast, we had fresh challah, Orangette's simple but insanely tasty chickpea salad, a variety of cheeses, and the first summer fruits of the season. Of course we ate outside next to my bubbling washtub fountain surrounded by the sound of birds tucking in for the evening. You simply can't do better than this: tasty food and dear friends on an early summer evening. I'll give you a recipe for what I made but of course you can use this approach to grill and serve anything your heart desires. Just make sure to enjoy it outside, on a perfect evening with people you really love.

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