The smell of crushed garlic instantly brings back the memory. In the plazas of every small village of Andalucía’s sister province, Murcia, they would gather. In the warm summer evening breeze, little ones on the hips of mom and in strollers, giggly teenagers with their school friends, abuelos y abuelas, arm in arm after the ritual paseo at nightfall. They would gather in the outdoor restaurants, if one could call these open-air gathering places such, and sit in the wobbly plastic chairs and tables covered in nothing but the last diner’s stray greasy waxed papers and full ashtrays. I sat with my Spanish friends who would take over the ordering, and before long we’d have two or three plates set before us.
I wasn’t terribly hungry, it being after 9 o’clock and still feeling the effects of the third iced espresso I’d had just an hour before, but once I saw those beautiful halved potatoes with each cut face generously smeared with a white sauce, my eyes overruled my stomach. ¡Patatas con ajo! My friend Isa would exclaim. Potatoes with garlic? It looked something like mayo to me, but once I took a bite I understood with dramatic clarity why they simply called this whipped concoction ajo. The garlic was so potently spicy it practically seared my tongue, leaving a lingering garlic in my mouth for days after. In Murcia, they simply refer to this garlicky mayonnaise as ajo. In Cataluña it is all i oli and, lucky for you, the intensity of the garlic depends entirely on whom wields the morter and pestle.
All i oli is traditionally made by first crushing garlic in that large heavy morter and pestle and, the more the garlic is crushed, the more potent its flavor. Slowly oil is poured into the mixture until the paste reaches a smooth texture. Our own Matiz Catalan All i Oli is made by traditional methods by Molí i Pomerí in Cataluña, a small business focused on making traditional Spanish products with locally-sourced ingredients. We’ve given our spread just enough garlic to call it Spanish (or Catalan, for that matter), but not so much to scare off your sweetheart. With just a few simple ingredients – garlic, garlic powder, oil and salt, we’ve captured a bit of Cataluña in each small jar.
In honor of long-ago summer memories, I decided to make those simple potatoes once again. Thick slices of creamy potato are the perfect foil for each generous smearing of Matiz All i Oli. The garlic not as intense as I remember (thankfully!) but just as delicious… even without rapid-fire Spanish as background noise.