Saffron Aioli, Slowly, Slowly

On Monday I woke up feeling slow. Not exactly sluggish, though I was deeply tired. It was more like maybe my body decided my brain had had quite enough of the rushabout and worry that underscores most days, and just simply down-geared. As a result, I feel like I noticed and heard a lot more than I usually do. My students are writing memoirs this week and I’ve been talking with them about their subjects. Really, I’ve been listening to them talk about amazing, painful, brave moments in their young lives.  And while one of my jobs as their teacher is to respond with critique and suggestions meant to help them improve and keep writing, I think one of my other jobs–especially in this unit–is to simply tune in and listen.

I also tried very hard to be present in my walk to and from campus, to notice the now-bare branches against the still-grey sky. I left my iPod home on my run and just listened to my breathing and footfalls. It was good. It felt good to be in my body.

That night, I decided to attempt making saffron aioli by hand.

Recipe #2: Saffron Aioli

makes about a cup and keeps about a week in the fridge

2 egg yolks

3/4 c. olive oil

1 very small pinch saffron threads

1 1/2 tbsp warm water

1 clove garlic, mashed

pinch of salt

fresh lemon juice–about 1 tbsp

fresh cracked black pepper

In a small bowl featuring a silly looking chef guy holding a bunch of chickens, soak the saffron threads in the warm water for 20 minutes.

Smash up a garlic clove with the salt. If you have a mortar and pestle, this is the time to bring it out and make a nice paste of the stuff. Otherwise, you can just whack it with the back of a heavy chef’s knife or even just mince it very, very well. Combine it with the egg yolk in a deep bowl.

Now drizzle in the olive oil very, very slowly. I mean drop by hesitating drop. Whisk all the while. The slowness is crucial here at the beginning. You are trying to emulsify the oil and yolk, and if you go too fast, you risk “breaking” the sauce. Once you’ve begun to incorporate it, you can go a wee bit faster, but not much. Keep whisking. This is going to take a good bit of time. It’s also going to give your whisk muscle a good workout. Keep moving. It will eventually turn into a chartreuse, jellied mass that smells grassy and bright.

Add the saffron with the soaking water and the lemon juice. Whisk to incorporate, and watch it turn from something awkward and unsure into something silky and rich and perfect. As I learned my lesson with the over-saffroned Billi Bi, I used a much lighter touch here. And now I understand why saffron is sometimes described as having a slight metallic-honey flavor. The metallic came through all too clearly last time. This time, the balance was just right and the taste subtle but rich and delicious.

Add some cracked black pepper and offer it to your husband to spread on his strip steak that you cooked in the cast iron pan. Or, make this:

Recipe #3: Whole Wheat Penne with Roasted Romanesco Broccoli, Toasted Walnuts and Saffron Aioli

1 lb Penne or other pasta

1 head Romanesco Broccoli

2 tbsp toasted walnuts

saffron aioli

First of all, look at this stuff!

This is Romanesco. Also known as “fractal broccoli,” because fractals! In broccoli! Nature is impressively cool, isn’t it? It tastes more like cauliflower than broccoli, but in any case tastes really good roasted. So do that like I did, on a baking sheet with some potatoes you’re planning to serve to your husband and kids with their steak.

Drizzle with some roasted hazelnut oil if you have it and sprinkle with some smoked paprika. Or, olive oil and sea salt if that’s what’s on hand. Doesn’t matter too terribly much. Either way, roast them at 450 for about 20 minutes, turning once until they look something like this:

Cook your pasta and fill a bowl with it. Toss the fractals on top with some walnuts mixed in. Top the whole thing with as much of the saffron aioli as you like. Crack some pepper over top.

Stir it all together while the pasta and broccoli are still hot and the aioli’s room temp or even cold. The contrast of all that texture and temperature and, oh!, flavor, is really just about perfect.

Your family can dip their steaks and their potatoes into the aioli, too. Use it as a dip for raw veggies. Spread it like mayo onto a roast beef or turkey sandwich. Stir it into soup. Slather it onto toast and top with a poached egg.

Lick it greedily from fingers–your own or those of someone you adore–for the rest of the week.

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