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Very well then

Apparently, I am a little bit fickle. Only three short months ago, almost to the day, I was singing the praises of homemade mayonnaise, and now here I am, about to offer you a recipe for basil aioli made by doctoring a jar of Best Foods. This might be a good time, I think, to call into service my favorite Walt Whitman quote:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I have eaten a lot of mayonnaise).

I am not usually a quote person, but I find that this one comes in handy in lots of different situations.

This past Saturday night, our friend Olaiya had a barbeque. The party was ostensibly to celebrate her new backyard - she moved a couple of months ago - and our newly arrived summer weather, but between you and me, I think it was just an excuse for icy drinks and corn on the cob. (Which I really can’t fault her for.) We all chipped in and brought six-packs of beer, and I made two batches of fresh mint ice cream, and once the sun went down, the tables were lit with tea lights in old jars. It was 85 degrees outside, and Olaiya wore a foxy little dress, and the night was so pretty that not even a stain on the tablecloth from spilled beer, or strawberry margarita, or whatever it was, could mar it.

Olaiya is a caterer, so she makes these sorts of things look maddeningly easy. For dinner, she made fresh salmon burgers with radishes and red onions, and she covered a platter with sliced tomatoes and slivered basil, and there was an enormous bowl of corn on the cob with butter and lime. For his part, Olaiya’s boyfriend John made some excellent margaritas, both regular and the aforementioned strawberry, and though I am a lightweight of almost comical proportions, somehow they didn’t even make me tipsy, which pleased me so much that I had to tell everyone how not-tipsy I was, which, in retrospect, probably means that I was tipsy. Either way, it was a gold star party all around. Also, when it came time to play Who Would You Rather, I managed to come up with the following doozy: Johnny Cash, or Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash? (Go ahead and take a minute to think about it. It’s tough.)

But the very best part of the evening was one of its smallest details: the basil aioli. It was the unofficial theme of the party - a benevolent sort of stealth weapon, I guess you could say, sneaking its way into everything. While we waited for the grill to heat, it served as a dip for tiny carrots, radishes, snap peas, and potato chips, and as a finishing topknot for deviled eggs. I spread some on the bun for my salmon burger, and it was delicious, too, on a slice of tomato or a bite of corn on the cob. (I even contemplated sneaking some into my bag to bring home, since it was already finding its way into everything, but I decided to be polite.) It was such a simple, subtle touch, but I couldn’t help thinking it was something that we all - you, me, everybody - should have in the arsenal.

So yesterday, I made Brandon teach me how to make it. He had made a big batch a couple of weeks earlier, for one of Olaiya’s catering gigs, and it wasn’t too hard to scale down, tasting and tweaking. Essentially, you make a slurry of olive oil, basil leaves, garlic, lemon, and salt - very much like pesto, minus the pine nuts and parmesan - and then stir it into your favorite mayonnaise.

Now, I am very partial to homemade mayonnaise. I like it so much, in fact, that I am inclined argue that it’s not even in the same species as store-bought. But sometimes I cannot be bothered. We were short on time this weekend, and our kitchen is currently very hot, so for the sake of instant gratification, and so that we wouldn’t kill each other, we used the commercial kind. (Anyway, when you’re making flavored mayonnaise, it often isn’t worth it to start from scratch, because all those soft, delicate nuances will be covered up anyway. It strikes me that this might be veering dangerously in the direction of Sandra Lee, but I think it’s perfectly fair.) Folded together with basil puree, the mayonnaise turned a pale shade of seafoam green, which looked impossibly elegant - almost Martha-esque! next up: topiaries! - on the end of a carrot. And it tasted just as you would imagine: cooling and creamy and, in a word, summery. I’m thinking burgers, here, people, and chicken salads, and grilled salmon, and tomato sandwiches, and BLTs. I’m thinking Fourth of July. I can’t wait.

Shortcut Basil Aioli

I used Best Foods – also sold as Hellman’s – mayonnaise for this recipe. It’s the brand I grew up with, and I think it has great flavor.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup packed basil leaves
½ tsp. lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
Pinch of salt
½ cup mayonnaise, either homemade or commercial

In the jar of a blender (or a small food processor), combine the olive oil, basil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Process until the mixture is smooth like pesto, pausing every now and then to scrape down the side of the blender jar with a small spatula or knife.

Put the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Add the basil mixture, and stir well to mix.

Serve as a dip for raw vegetables, spread onto sandwiches, folded into chicken salad, or dolloped on top of deviled eggs (minus the paprika and hot sauce, preferably).

Note: This recipe doubles very easily. However, don’t automatically double the amount of garlic and salt called for here; start with the quantities for a single batch, and then add more to taste.

Yield: a little more than ½ cup


Blogger Kitt said...

Great idea! Since I've failed miserably at making my own mayo (don't ask), this is a welcome alternative.

11:19 AM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger teryll said...

Never been a mayonnaise girl myself, until I had homemade mayonnaise. Actually the first time I had it, it was aioli and if I ever indulge, I prefer the homemade stuff, but it seems like your basil mayonnaise was a hit!

11:21 AM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Shira said...

Since the shop-bought mayo is laughably good here in Paris (do they sell Maille brand in the US too?), I've largely given up on making my own. I'm thinking that basil would be a wonderful addition to my next grand aioli, which was a stinky but delicious feast. Thanks for the idea!

11:48 AM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger kayenne said...

how packed is packed? i confess, i have this on-going argument with basil leaves, esp when making pesto. or maybe i'm just OC - but is there a weight equivalent for 1 cup packed basil leaves? what if the recipe asked for loosely packed? or maybe i just love my kitchen scale too much. i cringe when friends ask me for a pesto recipe, i tell them to just add enough oil until it looks right. then, i get frustrated glares.

sounds like a lovely recipe! i make mango-mayo with mango puree, cayenne and bestfoods mayo - also a wonderful all around dip!

11:50 AM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Michelle said...

Loved the Walt Whitman quote. What a great party! I'm a mustard girl myself, but leaning toward the mayo side of life, so this sounds perfect.

11:56 AM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amanda hesser wrote beautifully about homemade basil aioli years ago in her book "cooking for mr. latte" - you should check it out, if you aren't already familiar with her writing. hmmmm.

12:16 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Rosiecat said...

You quoted Walt! Brilliant!

I went through a basil-pesto-mayonnaise phase myself a few years ago: a few tablespoons of prepared basil pesto stirred into a half-cup or so of store-bought mayonnaise. Brilliant. Even if it does bring to mind echoes of Sandra Lee.

But I think your version, Molly, sounds delightful.

12:45 PM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous rachel keller said...

Your writing Molly, sigh, really adds such the loveliest touch, in multitudes. And thanks so much for the Walt reminder, poets go in and out of rotation with me, (currently on a Donald Justice kick, ever read him?)so it's so good to be brought back to good ol' Walt. Although I have to admit that you had me for a moment, thinking to myself, "I don't remember mayonnaise mentioned in Song of Myself..ha!"

1:06 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger deborah said...

i am filing this one away for when summer returns. but i am guessing i won't wait and will immediately make it the next time it is a sunny day 'round here.

1:52 PM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous Leah said...

Oh, pesto dip, how I long for you right this moment.

How is it I've only been gone a week and already I'm planning the menu for next year? We better rent bigger cars for that trip...

2:07 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger beebee mod said...

This was such a great story...loved it and that basil we have growing out in the pot, will do nicely. Miss seeing you on flickr, but still lurking.

2:29 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger karin said...

sounds like a perfect occasion to use the mason jar + blender trick:

2:37 PM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous Dana McCauley said...

You can still love homemade mayo and crave a short cut when it works...not contradictory at all.

Heck, I love Lanson champagne but often settle for a cava.

3:49 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger shari said...

sounds so tasty. in the south, we used duke's, but i'm not sure what the mayo of choice is in vermont yet.

4:50 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Courtney Putnam said...


Your mint ice cream was, well, mint-a-licious! And I must admit that I am not a mayo fan and Brandon's basic mayonnaise fooled me. I was dipping carrots and peas into with wild abandon (maybe I had too many margaritas too?).

I also want to note that my sunglasses were captured in picture number two of your post. I feel almost famous!

So good to see you and Brandon.


5:06 PM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous Sonya said...

Mmm, one of our favorite summer main dishes is grilled chicken breasts that have been marinated in homemade italian dressing, placed on a portuguese roll that's been lightly toasted on the grill and slathered with a basil aioli. YUM. In fact, I *just* purchased the necessary ingredients to make this tomorrow night.

7:29 PM, July 01, 2008  
Anonymous Kristin at The Kitchen Sink said...

Sounds like a beautiful, delicious night. Oh, and Joaquin Phoenix, I think. I think ...

7:48 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Magpie Ima said...

How funny--I've been stirring basil and garlic into store bought mayo for years. Only a couple of weeks ago did I dare to try from scratch and wow, was it ever tasty!

8:12 PM, July 01, 2008  
OpenID artisansweets said...

That sounds delicious and very similar to what we enjoyed during the sunny days this past weekend.... Salmon burgers with avocado and cilantro mayo. They were very tasty.

9:43 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Pille said...

Oooh, that sounds easy and delicious, even if you are cheating re: the mayo :)
PS I loved Olaiya's parmesan dip for asparagus!!

10:34 PM, July 01, 2008  
Blogger Victoria said...

Sounds yummy. Fourth of July would be a good time to try it - maybe served with a salad nicoise.

4:23 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Emily said...

I can't believe that it has taken until comment number twenty-one to grapple with this Johnny Cash vs. Phoenix as Cash dilemma. This is a serious question here, people! That said- and perhaps this is tragic- I'm gonna go with Joaquin.

5:08 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger hannah said...

i'm a little bit in love with olaiya, but i've said that before. i am so ready for this on my burgers this weekend, i can't even begin to tell you. also please cool off that kitchen.

6:38 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Wide Lawns said...

My father makes this and we dip the leaves of grilled artichokes in it, which is just wonderful.

7:15 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Kate said...

Somehow I have a feeling that some hasselback potatoes dipped in this might not be such a bad thing! I might have to find out...

7:36 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Garrett said...

Thanks for sharing the recipe. I agree with homemade mayo - I don't usually like the store bought stuff, but I have no problem eating some homemade mayonnaise. This basil aioli will definitely come in handy.

7:59 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Lizzie said...

mmm you definitely sold me. sounds like a perfect finishing touch for any summer bbq!

9:25 AM, July 02, 2008  
OpenID squeakyfrommage said...

Another fairly simple doctoring-up for commercial mayo is to add garlic, roasted peppers and a little lemon.

10:36 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Katharine said...

Molly, I have to ask - why did you turn to poloroids?? I agree that they are cool and retro looking sometimes, but I can't see your beautiful food very well at all, and you can't get all macro close anymore, so everything looks distant and fuzzy. Would you consider including both?

10:55 AM, July 02, 2008  
Anonymous D said...

I absolutely, completely, and utterly love your blog; which, as coincidence would have it, is precisely how I feel abut Joaquin Phoenix (as Johnny Cash or otherwise).

11:03 AM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi, guys. Glad to see that even the die-hard homemade mayonnaise fans out there are willing to accompany me down Best Foods Road! Thank you.

Oh, and to those of you who chose Joaquin Phoenix, I must say amen. I love Johnny Cash, but I LOVE Joaquin Phoenix. I cannot lie. (RIP, Johnny.)

To answer a few questions:

Shira, thanks for the tip about Maille mayonnaise! I'm sure there must be some store in the US that carries it. Maille mustard is pretty easy to find, so I've got my fingers crossed...

Kayenne, what I meant by "packed" was something pretty fluid; it need not be terribly precise. It's hard to mess this recipe up, really.

Anonymous, yep, I do remember that part of Cooking for Mr. Latte. It's with the chicken salad recipe, right?

Rachel, I haven't spent much time reading Donald Justice, although he's in a poetry anthology I studied as a teenager. The one I keep coming back to is Robert Hass. I love his old classic, Field Guide.

Beebee Mod, I miss you over at Flickr! So nice to hear from you here.

Karin, that tip is ingenious! I love it! Thanks so much for telling me about it.

Katharine, I guess the short answer is that I bought an old Polaroid a couple of months ago, and I fell head-over-heels in love! It may lack some of the sharpness of digital, yes, but I love the colors it yields, and the way the film responds to light, and the sense of atmosphere that it captures, and well, it's just what I'm interested in right now. I hope that makes sense.

1:22 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger sara said...

fantastic! I'll have to try this tonight, we have some artichoke waiting to be cooked.

2:34 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

Well! Inspired by the photocopy of your mayo column I brought home from the library, but weary of waiting for me to get around to things, my handsome new husband took matters into his own hands a couple months ago, and began making mayonnaise. He found his own recipe and it is YUMMO! In the last batch he added some of the sauce from a can of adobo chipotles - really SO AMAZING.

I can't wait to try this incarnation.

2:36 PM, July 02, 2008  
Anonymous Leah said...


2:39 PM, July 02, 2008  
Anonymous Pirouette said...

This definitely did sound like a yummy night, from decor to food.

3:22 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Aaron Kagan said...

Never been a mayo fan... until I started making my own. It can't be beat, except with a whisk, which it should be.


4:07 PM, July 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh man. we made this last night and after a few failed attempts using an ineffective chopper attachment thing, then the immersion blender, THEN the real blender, and then the original chopper attachment AGAIN, it turned out to be delicious. we ate it with polenta fries and corn on the cob and then a lot of pecan pie. yum!

4:07 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Amanda Nicole said...

Oh my lord, I just made this with fresh basil from the garden and I now realize what had been missing in my life, although I thought I had been pretty content in the first place. I am going to be slathering this onto practically everything that comes across my plate. Thanks for sharing!

6:47 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger jora said...

Best line, hands down: "a finishing topknot for deviled eggs." Love it! Can't wait to try this. I think I will make salmon burgers with the aioli for the 4th!

9:03 PM, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Leslie said...

My inaugural comment! I have been reading your work for about a month or two now, and it took the Joaquin question to get me to pipe up! How pitiful! Joaquin, hands down.

Also, in reading some older posts I was curious to know if your mother still owns a pilates studio in OKC? If so, I'd love to know which one it is so that I can check it out!

7:26 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Hillary said...

Yay for things made with basil, seriously, love the stuff!

8:04 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Leslie, Joaquin is a good motivator, isn't he? Ahh, Joaquin. Anyway, to answer your question, yes, my mom does indeed still own a Pilates studio in OKC. It's called Absolute Balance Pilates.

9:47 AM, July 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Molly,
What happened to your bon appetit column? Just got the new issue and it's not there any longer...??

11:13 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Not to worry, Kate. I'll be back next month! For a number of reasons, the August issue had to be shorter, that's all.

11:23 AM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger aforkfulofspaghetti said...

A devious argument, but one I'm inclined to agree with... ;-)

7:18 AM, July 04, 2008  
Anonymous lenmandy said...

molly--I just found orangette. Salmon burgers and basil aioli and the pacific northwest and smart, simple writing. Do you mind if I link to it from my page?


12:41 PM, July 04, 2008  
Blogger Creamer Family said...

Molly, Thanks so much for your jam recipe in BA. I have made two batches and they were both great. I made the first one with strawberries and the second with strawberiies and figs. Thanks for taking the scare-factor out of canning. I am looking forward to the Fall to make your cinnamon rolls.

4:43 PM, July 05, 2008  
Anonymous aaron said...

I've failed miserably at making my own mayonnaise, so I like Best Foods. Nice recipe! I'll try it.

8:44 PM, July 05, 2008  
OpenID galainoregon said...

I made the simple basil aioli for a crudité plate I brought to a 4th of July dinner. Every last carrot was eaten, every last drop of aioli gone. It tasted way more sophisticated than the three minutes it took to make. Brilliant!

10:15 PM, July 05, 2008  
Blogger Emi said...

Molly, this is somewhat off topic, but from one Polaroid fan to another, how do you feel about their discontinuation? I myself am terribly sad about it. Have you stock piled film for your wonderful food photos? :)

10:55 PM, July 05, 2008  
Anonymous Helen said...

I get so much stick from my partner for having Hellman's mayo in the fridge. He thinks it is disgusting and a lesser brand. I'm not ashamed though! In fact, I just ate a BLT with a big glob of it. I'm wishing now that I'd stirred some of your gorgeous basil paste into it. Delish.

6:30 AM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger The King said...

Thank god the August issue of Bon Appetit was just an aberration. Other wise angry letters would have to be written. Angry indeed! Love your work ever so much-food and waxing lyrical about it? More like this, please.

9:30 AM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Katelyn said...

This aioli is sitting in my fridge as we speak -- I made it quickly before heading out to dinner with my parents and had only a tiny taste, but that taste alone had me in love with the recipe. Celery dipped in this stuff was my midnight snack last night and I have to say, it replaces ranch in my heart for a vegetable dip.

So simple, too!

10:46 AM, July 06, 2008  
Anonymous Nikki said...

Orangette, I just wanted to say that I love your blog. I've been reading it for a little over a month now and it's great! I love photography and food so this is right up my alley. I've never made homemade mayo but I just made homemade jam last week. You've inspired me to go for it! Thanks

11:54 AM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

You guys leave the nicest comments. Thank you! And to those who made the basil aioli, so glad you liked it.

And Emi, I am SO sad about Polaroid. I've got a bit of a stockpile in the basement, yes, but it's only about 150 exposures (so far), which will probably be gone much more quickly than I would like. Sob.

3:56 PM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Christina said...

Haven't been reading Orangette for a few weeks (for a few, unimportant reasons that are nothing to do with the quality of said blog!), and now that I've come back, I realize how much I missed it. You are always a joy to read, Molly. :)

4:00 PM, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Anna said...

I had to rush in late to echo all the raves--and mention that my batch of basil mayo still hasn't gotten boring four days later. We're dipping steamed green beans in it now, and it was unparalleled in BLTS with blue cheese and fresh tomatoes.

I've messed around with quite a few flavored mayos--but the lemon addition to this one was genius!

7:26 AM, July 07, 2008  
Blogger tony said...

Hi Molly,

Yum!! Another allioli to add to the list: this one sounds really superb and just the thing to bring some sunshine into northern garlic-less places.......

My friend Benito from Palma (yes, he always gets asked about what his parents were thinking) taught me his allioli recipe from Catalunya.

Smash a couple of large garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle with a large pinch of salt and gradually add olive oil, pounding and incorporating all the time. I was skeptical, but it did turn into, well, a creamy, hot and overwhelmingly garlicky sauce for vegetables, fries and fish. I will try it with basil!


1:38 PM, July 07, 2008  
Blogger design for mankind. said...

Oh my goodness; your blog is SO lovely and gives me the munchies!!!! :)

4:09 PM, July 07, 2008  
Blogger Randi said...

Don't you dare go comparing yourself to the dreaded Sarah Lee.. the woman is an abomination on the culinary world, and you are simply short on time. Looks awesome, can't wait to make it.

10:53 AM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Shannon said...

Made this last night for dipping steamed artichokes. Wonderful. My sister and I both loved it. Thanks for the great recipe.

9:48 PM, July 14, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time, ummm, maker? I put this together and it was delicious! I love this blog - it gives me the extra push to try something delicious.

12:34 PM, July 15, 2008  
Blogger AmandaMay said...

I saw this quote today and thought of this post...

"Mayonnaise: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion."
Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914), The Devil's Dictionary

Yours looks just wonderful.

11:00 PM, July 15, 2008  
Blogger Carrie said...

I tried this with some chicken salad (along with a little regular mayo), and it worked really nicely! The only thing I wish I could have done is made the basil slurry a little smoother. For some reason, my mini-prep Cuisinart just didn't want to behave and break down the basil to a totally smooth consistency. Still, the aioli tasted great--really fresh and bright--and I sort of liked the little flecks of basil that didn't quite puree. Thanks for sharing this, Molly!

8:00 PM, July 24, 2008  
Blogger Penny said...

Here's a mayo that's as good as homemade and better than Hellman's....Southern cooks swear by it. It is good enough to eat straight from the jar with a spoon.

It contains no sugar (just like regular homemade mayo doesn't--at least my recipe doesn't) and it PERFECT in every mayo way!


For some reason their website isn't working right now....

8:16 AM, July 26, 2008  
Blogger AmyArtisan said...

Was wondering what to do for dinner tonight when I came across this post - I went out to the herb pot on the deck & picked basil for this recipe. I then made a chicken salad (chicken, walnuts, dried cherries) with this as the binder - delicious! :)

3:34 PM, August 04, 2008  
Anonymous Dazy said...

I'm making this tonight. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture!

5:24 AM, June 19, 2009  

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