So I’m playing with “Raw,” my cool new cookbook by Anne Klein and Charlie Trotter (yes THAT Charlie Trotter, bless him), and I run into a recipe for pine-nut mayonnaise. The hair stands up on the back of my neck:
I have this long-running love affair with mayo and its French cousin, Aioli, the egg-and-garlic-and-lemon-and-olive oil emulsion that should be made in vats big enough to bathe in, but is usually served in much more discreet and teensy dipping cups or dolloped discreetly atop frou-frou entrees.
My best encounter: the Grand Aioli at Gu&Fils in Aix-en-Provence, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my family. This is a spring feast of new potatoes and green beans and sea fare and beets and boiled eggs, all meant to be served dipped, spread, dribbled, with as much aioli as you can swallow. And the aioli is flavored with as much garlic as you can bear without crying too much, but just enough. And then a few extra cloves are thrown in so you will never forget this meal, this table, that wine, Messier Gu’s terrific moustache. And it works. I will never forget.
But back in the States, in attempts to duplicate the meal, the raw eggs scare my guests (or is it the garlic?). And no mayo can sit on a picnic table for long, theoretically. So I have looked long for aioli and mayonnaise methods that can emulsify better-for-us oils (no trans-fats!) without the eggs.
And this pine-nut mayonnaise of Klein and Trotter’s offers me my first really interesting alternative. Nuts.
So we use soaked nuts as an emulsifier, a little water, some olive oil, and you now have a new kind of spread, carrying the delicate flavor of the nut, your choice of oil, and a much healthier blend of fats. These can sit at room temperature, manage subtle or strong spices, depending on the nut and your taste.
The pine-nut mayo recipe offers a smooth, white spread, delicate and lovely and worth the price of the book.
Inspired by that one, and for an article in today’s The Grand Rapids Press, I tried a sweet dip, made with pecans, sweetend with dates:
Asian Pears with Cinnamon-Pecan-Date Dip
1 c. raw, shelled pecans, soaked for 2 -4 hours in water
« c. water
4 T. olive oil
1 T. orange zest
1 large Medjool or two small dates, pitted
¬ tsp. kosher salt
¬ tsp. cinnamon
¬ c. water for blending
4 Asian Pears, sliced
In a high speed blender, blend the first 7 ingredients. Add tablespoons of water one at a time, just enough to keep the blender working. Blend at high speed for two minutes. This dip can be served immediately with washed and dried strawberries, pears, apples, pineapple spears, or made in advance and chilled. Stir again before serving.
I’ve done this same dip without the date and cinnamon, but adding a half teaspoon of curry and serving it with asparagus or pears or baked beets.
I also like all of these spread lightly on sesame Wasa bread.
Well, if you’re low-carbing, enjoy these nut spreads at will. You’ll need to count the carbs in the dates, or you can exclude them. If you’re counting fats, you may want to steer clear, although this is a great recipe for including healthy fats and blood-lipid-correcting pecans in your diet. If you’re counting calories, figure this is a calorie wash with any other kind of mayo. The water just doesn’t dilute things enough to have much effect on the calorie load here.
If you’re not afraid of raw eggs, this is just one more cool recipe. I encourage you to try the real deal, with really fresh eggs whose shells are intact. Le Grand Aioli, by the way, is traditionally a spring rite. But I’m not sure anything’s better than a garlic bath in the middle of winter.