It’s a sumptuous side dish.
Maybe for that reason many people believe that Russian salad, the Italian version of a great European recipe, is a difficult dish to make.
What do you think about reading method before discarding the idea?
In cooking, the word side usually means a dish of vegetables or legumes that accompany the main dish. And Russian salad, although is a side dish, becomes a queen once on the table.
When I was a child, I remember it was a side that was served on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter lunch. And even the famous writer Pellegrino Artusi, in the index of his book L’Arte di mangiar bene (The Art of Eating Well), includes the recipe in the section Herbs and Legumes, which on today’s table are sides.
But the truth is that you can also serve Russian Salad as an appetizer, aperitif or main course (in this case add in thin strips of lesso or bollito that in Italy is the meat cooked in the broth).
A good Russian salad must have crunchy vegetables and quality mayonnaise. The best is homemade, but if you prefer to buy it, buy the best. Perhaps even more important than the vegetables, it is the mayonnaise that makes the difference between an anonymous Russian salad and a superb one.
I used traditional ingredients such as potatoes, carrots and peas (frozen because they are not in season in the middle of winter). Depending on the time of year, you can change the vegetables. For example using green beans. Nonna Sara also used small pieces of white cauliflower.
But before reading the recipe, did you know that this is an ancient dish with a rich history?
History of the recipe.
The origins of the recipe are linked to different countries and times.
Some historians believe it originated in a Piedmontese recipe, others in France, some in France and Russia. Some place its origin in the 19th century, while others believe it appeared earlier.
What I think as a researcher in history is that all things, before “entering in the history books”, have a moment of incubation during which they assume the characteristics that then become known to everyone. It happens with events, for example a revolution does not suddenly start unrelated to the social, economic and cultural context.
And the same applies to a recipe.
Among the possible origins, one is definitely wrong. It cannot have originated in France during the so-called Belle Epoque period (first quarter of the 19th century). Although the years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War were happy-go-lucky and carefree, Insalata Russa it wasn’t born during that period. How can I tell?
It is not me who says so, but historical sources.
The cookbook Il Re dei Cuochi, a cookbook of universal gastronomy by Giovanni Nelli published in the 1868, includes the Russian salad recipe among the pages for the first time (i.e. long before the Belle Epoque).
Pellegrino Artusi also mentions the dish in reprints of his L’Arte di mangiar bene in the early 20th century.
Italian food historian Massimo Montanari (La Cucina Italiana, Laterza edition), cites a 19th century banquet where sandwiches in Russian style, that is stuffed with Russian salad, were offered.
During the eighteenth century, there is no evidence of a similar dish and so, pending new discoveries, we can say that its origins probably lie between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Europe.
But before tips and recipe, I leave you with two anecdotes.
The first leads to Russia where the salad is known as Olivier from the name of the French chef who introduced the recipe to the country shortly after the mid-19th century.
The second leads to Romania and Moldova where Russian salad is made with cooked beef stripes.
One thing is sure, over the centuries, it has been enjoyed by rich and powerful, kings and queens.
And now it’s time to cook.
Buona cucina, Monica
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If you leave the vegetables moist, you will have a watery Russian salad. Be careful, after cooking the vegetables in water, drain and place on a clean cloth or kitchen paper. Then dry gently.
If you have no time to make the mayonnaise, season the one you have bought with a generous teaspoon of chopped capers and one teaspoon of mustard to mix into the sauce before mixing all the ingredients together.
The recipe quantity is a generous side dish for 4 people or an aperitif for 6 to be served with crispy streghe (a typical kind of Bolognese cracker).
Russian Salad or Insalata Russa Recipe
capers, 1 teaspoon
mayonnaise, about 200 g
coarse and fine salt to taste
Peel the potatoes and clean the carrots.
Keep the vegetables, which have different cooking times, separate and cut everything into small cubes.
Cook the potatoes in salted water and drain (about 10 minutes from when the water boils); then make the same with the carrots and drain (about 8 minutes), at least cook the peas (just a few minutes).
Lay the vegetables on a dish towel covered with kitchen paper, pat lightly and allow to dry well before proceeding.
In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the finely chopped capers (washed before under water).
In another bowl, mix the vegetables and add the mayonnaise by spoonfuls, stirring constantly. Taste and add salt if needs.
Keep some mayonnaise aside to decorate before serving.
After choosing the dish where place the salad, line a mould with a circumference suitable for the base of the dish, line with cling film so that it overflows the edges, fill with the salad, cover with the excess film and place in the fridge.
When it is time to serve, place the plate on the bowl, turn it upside down, gently remove the cling film and decorate with mayo and capers. But you can also place the salad in a bowl and serve it that way.