Sunday, June 15, 2008

Insalata russa, or, Russian salad

This used to be one of my favorites when I was quite young and lived in Italy. I'd get wrapped portions of it just for myself from the salumeria as a treat. I always assumed it was Italian, despite its name, and had never seen or heard of it in America. And I still don't. Thus, I assumed it had never made its presence here. Wrong.

First of all, what is it? Basically, it's a potato salad that also has peas and carrots, and perhaps green beans, all in small sizes (about a quarter inch) and all wrapped in mayonnaise.

Doing my research I found from Wikipedia that it is indeed thought to have originated in Russia in the 19th century through a French chef. It is found in many countries (Spain, Latin America, Italy, and Germany-where it is called Italian salad).

Amazingly, when you consider that you never see it in the States, it has been known here for some time. It is in the classic Fannie Farmer's Cookbook from 1918. And it is in The Joy of Cooking, at least the version I have from 1975.

Here is my adaptation from The Joy:

(Do not use canned veggies as they suggest as a compromise. )

1 cup cooked carrots

1 cup waxy potatoes

1/2 cup cooked green beans

1/2 cup peas

They include 1 cup beets, but I am omitting this as I have not seen it done in Italy. The above should be cooked till firm, as they must hold their shape in the salad. Toss with a good amount of mayonnaise. If you are handy with the home-made mayo (I'm not), do use this. Season with salt and pepper. I prefer to make ahead (at least an hour) and refrigerate.

Italians will sometimes get fancy and serve for guests as a molded form, sometimes with toppings such as cocktail shrimp, salmon, or thinly-sliced lemon.