The Grand Provencal Spirit
The warm air waving perfumed breezes of wild thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender, and fennel. Our senses titillated by the aromas and warmth of Provence in the summer. I’m so in love with every one of these flavors, aren’t you?
One of the famed traditions of the region is to serve Le Grand Aioli at a summertime party of friends and family. For me, this dish brings up such a profound memory of a dear foodie friend, Sheila Lukins of The Silver Palate. The twist, however, is that it’s not from a glorious meal in a hidden spot found while traveling in the south of France!
The best Grand Aioli I’ve EVER had was from right here, on the East Coast, in the shadow of France’s greatest gift to us (besides Provencal flavors), the Statue of Liberty!
A Grand Dish for A Grand Friend
It was the summer of 2008 when Sheila invited me to her home for a dinner party, in the village of Sag Harbor. I became good friends with Sheila after working closely with her at her well-known food shop, The Silver Palate in Manhattan. It was one of those sultry and miserable August evenings in New York, when even on Long Island the fresh air doesn’t feel so fresh. And to our discomfort, Sheila’s home was “au naturel” and void of any air conditioning!
Always a culinary wizard, though, Sheila knew just what to serve this group of 12 or so people on this rather steamy night. She served up a beautiful Grand Aioli platter full of fresh, seasonal vegetables and some of the finest cooked and chilled seafood. Sweet and succulent lobster and overflowing shellfish were the perfect accompaniments for such an affair. Voila! We filled our bellies on aioli, fish, and wine. When she offered dessert we passed because we were already laden from the seductive meal and just wanted to head back to our air-conditioned chariots to carry us home and to bed as quickly as possible!
An Homage to Friendship and Flavor
A year later, I lost my good friend, Sheila to cancer at the very young age of 66. So, when I make this dish, it is in her honor. There are so many ways to make this because the accompaniments are really whatever you want them to be. It’s a great dish for entertaining as it pleases just about anyone. In addition to your seasonal vegetables, and seafood, you can add some fragrant ham or perhaps some thinly sliced seared beef.
It’s a beautiful presentation and if you cook all of the elements in the same liquids as I do in my recipe the flavors sing together in harmony. The poached fish is fragrant and moist. I find the artichokes add something special, but they take a while to cook and pull apart. So, like the rest of the vegetables, you may want to make them in advance. I wouldn’t recommend swapping them for canned artichokes because it’s not the same.