Recipes: Insalata Russa

Rufina, December 1971

- Granny, why’s it called "Russian salad"?

- What a question! Because they make it in Russia.

- The Russia where Yuri Gagarin comes from?

- Who?

- Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space on 12 April 1961 aboard the capsule Vostok 1 and…

- ...Away with you! I don’t know anything about that, but I do know that Russians make this salad and if you don’t hurry up peeling those potatoes, we won’t be eating it this year.

- OK, tovarich Nonziatina

- Don’t get smart with me. You’ve just started school and you already think you’re a scientist!

I’ve made up this conversation, thinking of the many times I helped by grandma Nonziatina to make what used to be an iconic dish for our family: insalata russa (“Russian salad”).

Every Christmas it was a mainstay. Actually, it was one of the star dishes, served with boiled meats, pickles and parsley sauce.

It’s a very simple recipe: diced vegetables that are boiled, cooled and mixed with mayonnaise to make a trayful. The appearance is rather retro, but it’s always delicious and inviting, garnished with a few slices of hard-boiled egg, gherkins, olives and capers.

You can decide what vegetables to use, but potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, green beans and peas are omnipresent. Just dice the veg, boil them, set aside to cool and add the mayonnaise, which should be about half the weight of the vegetables, plus some more as garnish.

The mayonnaise is made using an egg yolk at room temperature, plus a trickle of peanut oil and a drop of lemon juice.

The rest is up to you and your imagination, but remember that the grannies up there are watching and Christmas is a day of tradition….Walls have ears!