A few years ago, a friend invited a group to his family vacation home in the hills outside Valencia, Spain to celebrate his birthday. I will always travel for a good party, so I packed my bags and jetted off. I was the first guest to arrive, so he and I headed off to the grocery store to stock the house (he is also aware that I am an expert grocery shopper). In addition to stocking up on milk and eggs and bread, he insisted the first thing we buy was a tub of alioli. I knew of the garlicky mayonnaise like alioli of course – it is the Spanish cousin to France’s better known aioli – but had never heard of it sold in tubs at the grocery store. But there it was, in the refrigerated section, next to the butter, many brands and sizes. My friend explained that this stuff was everywhere in the area; every restaurant serves it with the bread basket, every store stocks it, and it is his favorite Spanish treat. And he was right. We purchased the first of several tubs for the week along with some lovely locally made bread. We ate mostly at restaurants, and sure enough every single one of them brought out a dish filled with alioli and bread to slather it on, almost every time in the yellow and green mortar made especially for the preparation of alioli. All the touristy and fine ceramic shops in every town sold a version, so we all decided it was the perfect souvenir of our trip.
Alioli spread on good bread is a delicious treat, but it’s uses are endless and show up on many tapas menus. It is fabulous with big, juicy, cold shrimp (we did that in Spain with the leftovers from a dinner using locally sourced shrimp). It is used to make a cold potato dish, like a potato salad, but I love it as a dip for vegetables, or these fantastic salt roasted potatoes. The potatoes are crispy on the inside and tender on the inside, perfectly seasoned all the way through. This is not a dish for any kind of fancy artisan salt, just the kosher salt from the box. Look for the little bite size potatoes at the grocery or farmers market – any color will do.
Alioli with Salt Roasted Potatoes
For the Alioli:
3 cloves of garlic
Generous pinch of kosher salt
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
a squeeze of lemon juice (about ½ teaspoon)
½ cup canola oil
½ cup mild olive oil
For the Potatoes:
1 ½ pounds small potatoes
2 – 3 cups kosher salt
For the Alioli:
Peel the garlic and cut each clove in half. Is there is any green germ sprouting in the middle, cut it out. Put the cloves through a garlic press into the bowl if a small food processor. Sprinkle over some salt, then process for a few seconds. Add the egg, egg yolk and lemon juice and scrape all the garlic from the sides of the bowl into the eggs and process until smooth. Measure the oils together in a spouted measuring jug and, with the motor running, slowly drizzle it into the eggs in a steady stream. Keep processing in the oil until thick and completely emulsified. You will hear that the processing changes from a wet, slapping sound to a smooth whir. When the alioli is thick, scoop it into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. It will keep for 2 days.
For the Potatoes:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Choose a ceramic baking dish that fits the potatoes close together, but not touching. Spread about 1 cup of the salt over the bottom of the dish, then nestle the potatoes into the salt. Pour the remaining salt over the potatoes and roast for 1 – ½ hours. Prick a potato with a thin knife or skewer to see that they are tender throughout. Its fun to serve the potatoes on their salt bed, but you can also scoop them out of the salt and serve in a bowl.