We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Is Served,” she’ll ask colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on. In this installment: In between filming her YouTube series and putting the finishing touches on her next cookbook, What’s for Dessert, Claire Saffitz pulls together a grand aioli. But she doesn’t pretend to be Martha Stewart: “I’m not making this every night.”
It will probably be surprising to people who think I make elaborate meals all the time that a lot of times dinner is either very simple or almost snacky or impromptu or informal. Most nights it’s 9 p.m. and my husband and I are trying to decide what we have to eat. Over the winter and when I’m really intense in my recipe testing mode, most of my dinners are frozen dumplings that I steam on the stove and then fry. In an ideal world, I’d steam some broccoli with the dumplings but that usually never happens.
Certainly now that some of the spring and summer stuff is coming in, I’ve been a little more inspired. Recently I had a couple artichokes and asparagus. This was maybe a Wednesday but the day of the week is somewhat irrelevant because what is achievable for me on a weekday is very particular to my circumstance. I’m always in the kitchen and so a lot of times I’m prepping dinner while I’m finishing up a recipe.
The idea of a grand aioli started when I went to the store earlier in the day and there was some wild-caught shrimp at the store that looked pretty good. They were U-12. I really love the really big shrimp. They’re just fun to eat. So that’s when I put it together that we’ll have like a spring vegetable aioli, which is truly one of my favorite meals.
As I was testing other recipes, I was trimming the artichokes and snapping the ends off the asparagus and deveining the shrimp. I do really minimal prep on the artichokes. I just use scissors to snip off the spiky ends of the leaves and then I cut with a serrated knife across the top to trim most of the leaves in one fell swoop. I rubbed a cut lemon on the cut side of the artichoke [to prevent browning].
I think I prepared a salad dressing before I started steaming, too. If I’m going to really make dinner, it’s always going to start with a salad. My go-to salad components are endive, radicchio, and romaine with a very simple French vinaigrette of really finely minced shallot and honey and mustard and then just olive oil and whatever good red wine or white wine vinegar I have around. A little bit of honey helps when you have chicories and bitter stuff. I make the salad dressing in a really large bowl so that all I have to do is toss the greens into it. We always have a hunk of Parm around so I’ll just shave some Parm into it, too. So I made the dressing and set it aside and then I started steaming.
I tend to use my metal steamer only because the bamboo steamer is really high up in a cabinet and I can’t reach it. First I steamed the artichokes, which take a good 20 minutes if not longer; a lot of times I actually undercook them and it’s annoying. While the artichokes were cooking I made a quick aioli with egg yolk, grated garlic, lemon juice, and half olive oil and half neutral oil, which is a nice balance. Then I took out the artichokes and while they were cooling I steamed the asparagus and then the shell-on shrimp. I peeled the shrimp after steaming, then put the shrimp, artichokes, and asparagus on a big platter and I just did lemon juice and salt and a little bit of olive oil over everything. Then we had it with the aioli and our salad.
This dinner took a little while but it’s very hands-off and you need very little prep. I don’t think this was a particularly late dinner but if this wasn’t going to be ready for a while no one seems to mind. My husband and I eat at like 10 or 11, which is too late, for sure, but we are both night owls and tend to work into the wee hours. Sometimes I’m still in the kitchen cleaning up or recipe testing after dinner.
This meal was a little more aspirational for us, but it’s definitely a dinner I’m excited to make and eat. I think it feels so luxurious. And I’ll eat anything with aioli on it, so that helps.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes.
Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá and raised between Colombia, Holland, and the US. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.