Just recently one of my Adelaide friends made a salsa verde to accompany some lightly roasted sirloin and roasted vegetables. Most enjoyable.
Making salsa verde was one of my tasks as a teenager in the family kitchen.
There always seemed to be some salsa verde in our fridge; it was used specifically as a condiment for our frequent serves of pesce lesso, (poached or steamed fish) and bollito (boiled meat). Broth (and hence boiled meat) was a weekly affair. Traditionally it was intended to accompany plain tasting, boiled food.
I was very surprised that I have not included a recipe for salsa verde on my blog as I make it often.
I have never measured or weighed ingredients when making sauces, but these estimations seem to produce what I am after. Allow this salsa to rest for at least an hour so that the flavours become better balanced.
Traditionally the consistency of the sauce is semi liquid, especially if you wish to pour it over fish or meat. However, by adding larger amounts of solid ingredients, this sauce can be presented as a large blob on the side of the meat or fish.
To serve the salsa verde with fish, I sometimes use lemon juice instead of vinegar. In latter years I also started to add grated lemon peel.
Recipes evolve and over time, especially in other parts of the world where salsa verde has been become popular and different herbs have been added. For example I have noticed that mint or tarragon or oregano or rocket have snuck in. These herbs are not common in the traditional Italian recipe that originated in the north of Italy but has spread all over Italy. In Sicilian it is called sarsa virdi .
Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg).
I had someone ask me recently about using it with left over Christmas turkey. Why not?
parsley, 1 cup cut finely,
wine vinegar, 1 ½ tablespoonful
anchovies, 3-4 cut finely
capers, ½ cup, if the salted variety, rinse, soak to remove salt
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
freshbread, the white part of 1 slice
egg, 1, hard boiled, chopped finely
garlic, 2 cloves chopped
green olives, chopped, ½ cup
Soak the bread briefly in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and squeeze dry.
Combine all of the ingredients and stir them gently together in a wide mouthed jar or jug.
The anchovies generally provide sufficient salt, but taste the sauce and season to taste.
When I lived in my parent’s house a little of the mixed garden pickles (called sotto aceti or giardiniera) was a must. Select a couple of small pieces of the white root (turnip) or green (small gherkins). Omit the ½ tablespoon of vinegar.
This is the type of sauce where you can vary the ingredients. Add different amounts of ingredients – more or less anchovies or capers.
This Sicilian recipe – Pipi ca Muddica – begins with roasted peppers.
I made a large batch of these recently for a gathering (I used 4 k of peppers) but when I am busy I do not always have time to take photos. These are the leftovers so as you can see, they were popular.
To roast peppers
Roasting peppers is easy and great for the hot weather as they can be roasted (or grilled) over an open flame on a barbecue. I have never used my oven to roast peppers, but some people do.
Select a variety of colours. Peppers should be, whole, firm and unbroken.
Place whole peppers on the hot metal grill over an open flame or coals. Turn them over a few times and the skin should soften and their skin will char after 15-20 minutes of cooking. and you get a nice smoky flavor.
Once you’ve roasted your peppers, you will need to complete the cooking and the softening of the peppers by steaming. This process will help you peel the tough skin. My mother used to place them in a heavy brown paper bag or a plastic bag and seal it. I place them into a casserole with a lid and leave them there for at least 30 minutes.
Peel the peppers and seed them and tear them into strips. The roasted peppers are now ready to make into a salad. By far the most common Sicilian recipe for roasted peppers is to add a couple of red tomatoes that you have also charred on the open flame and use this to make the dressing.
Remove their skin, mash with a fork add slivers of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt, pepper and some lemon juice. Dress the peppers, mix well and once dressed serve them within an hour.
I say ‘within and hour’ because roasted peppers if left to stand begin to weep their juices and you will find that the dressing has been diluted significantly. An alternative is to leave the peppers (can be stored in the fridge), drain them well and dress them just before serving.
The recipe for Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica (Italian) uses some breadcrumbs and this is one way to absorb some of the juices that are released.
Breadcrumbs are very important in Sicilian Cuisine and there are many recipes that use either coarse, fried bread crumbs or fine and dry (for coating food to fry).
Use 1-3 day old white bread (crusty bread, sourdough or pasta dura).
These are used as a topping for baked recipes and stuffings. Remove crust, break into pieces, place into a food processor and make into coarse crumbs. They can be grated or crumbled with fingertips.
These provide greater flavour and texture and are usually sprinkled on cooked foods, for example: Pasta con Sarde or Caponata.Heat about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add 1 cup of coarse breadcrumbs (see above). Stir continuously on low temperature until an even, golden brown.
Depending on in what I am using the bread crumbs, I may add all sorts of goodies to these, for example there may be: grated lemon peel, pine nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little sugar.
Pipi ca Muddica – Peperoni con la mollica
There are a number of versions of this Sicilian recipe from different parts of the island and the most common are those versions that add fried onion or some raisins, or pine nuts. This version of Pipi ca Muddica is from the area around Syracuse.
It can be an entrée (as a small course served before a larger one) or as a vegetable side dish.
1.5 k of roasted peppers torn into strips
1 cup of bread crumbs (Coarse, see above)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of capers
3-4 tablespoons wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
Lightly and gently sauté the chopped garlic in the oil, add the breadcrumbs and stir them around in the hot pan until golden. Add the roasted peppers, the capers and the wine vinegar. Add the seasoning and toss the contents around over moderate- to hot heat until the vinegar evaporates 5-10 mins. Some cooks add a little bit of sugar- the sweet and sour taste is very common in some Sicilian cuisine.
Place the contents into a dish and let cool – Pipi ca Muddica should be served cold. They can be placed in the refrigerator for about 1-2 days. Remove them from the refrigerator about half an hour before serving.
Basil leaves are not compulsory, but I do like this herb.
Depending on the variety of globe artichokes, they may have green, violet or bronze coloured leaves.
In Melbourne it is mid October and the ‘Green Globe’ variety of artichoke is close to being out of season.
However, notice that the head is still tight, heavy and compact. Fortunately for me, the green artichoke did not have a hairy choke, but in the next few weeks if you are purchasing the green variety, it is likely to have a hairy choke. Young and in season artichokes do not have chokes or may have a small choke that can be removed quite easily. The hairy, inedible choke becomes prominent when artichokes are going out of season and are left to mature on the plant; the hairy part becomes part of the seed body of the artichoke.
The violet tinged variety has been available from my favourite vegetable stall in the Queen Victoria Market for the last few weeks and will continue to be in season for a few more weeks, but as long as the weather doesn’t get too hot. The spiny leaf tips can be prickly so I am always more careful when I clean the violet ones.
The green artichokes are at their best in autumn.
When I purchase any variety of artichokes I always select artichokes that are compact and avoid opened out artichokes with curled or dry looking leaves.
Once stripped of its outer fibrous cover, the top of the stem, is very tender and tasty.
Stuffed artichokes should always be upright in the saucepan and have the cooking liquid three quarter -way up. Sometimes I cook potatoes with artichokes to prop them upright.
Carne Aglassata is a Sicilian recipe and it is meat braised slowly with plenty of onions. The resulting sauce, once reduced, acts as a glaze for the meat.
Carne Aglassata is reputed to have been one of the typical dishes of Palermo as cooked by the Monsù – derived from the word monsieur – a French or French-trained cook employed in the homes of the wealthy in Sicily (and southern Italy) during the 1800s’ and early 19th centuries.
Some of the Monsù were French but others were Piedmontese, as Piedmont had been under French control in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These cooks influenced the local Sicilian cuisine by adding flair to what usually resulted in elaborate French inspired dishes. They were show off dishes and were often very decadent and rich; some are described in The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa which gives an account about the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento .
For some reason that I have never been able to comprehend, my father who had never cooked for the family when we lived in Italy regularly cooked lingua (tongue) aglassata when we first came to Australia. The standard recipe for aglassata is for carne (meat) and it is usually for the yearling cut called the girello or silverside.
He cooked this on a Sunday morning – we had the sauce with rigatoni or penne for lunch and the meat for main course. Most of the sauce was used to dress pasta and some of the sauce was reserved for the tongue.Sometimes he added peas during the last stages of the cooking. Obviously you could also include the tongue in the sauce as the dressing for the pasta.
Lard is usually used for the cooking of Carne aglassata – I used olive oil to cook it. Because tongue can be quite fatty I cooked the dish the day before and skimmed off the fat the next day. I also cut off the back part of the tongue which goes into the throat because this part is also quite fatty.
I then added about 1 tablespoon of lard when I reheated it – the lard helps to make the sauce glossy.
One ox tongue, about 4 large onions, 1 glass of white wine, rosemary and sage, salt, pepper, about ½ cup altogether of extra virgin olive oil and lard (pig fat).
To peel the tongue:
Wash it really well- I used a vegetable brush to scrub it. You can even use a clean kitchen brush to scrub it.
Place it in a saucepan and cover it with cold water, cover the lid and boil it until the skin turns white. This took about 30 minutes.
Drain it and peel the skin off while it is still hot. The skin is very thick and will come off easily.
Select a saucepan that will hold the tongue comfortably but that will not need a large amount of water to cover it.
Slice the onions, place them in a saucepan with the oil and herbs, salt and pepper. Add some water, just to cover the tongue. Cover the saucepan with a lid and slowly simmer the tongue for about 2 hours.
Add the white wine, cover and continue to cook it for another 30 minutes.
Place the saucepan in the fridge overnight and skim off the fat the next day.
Remove the tongue and heat the sauce on high heat to thicken the sauce. Add about a tablespoon of lard while it is thickening, this helps to gloss the sauce.
Slice the tongue and return it to the sauce to heat. Use it to dress the pasta or as meat.
I pressed the leftover tongue for another occasion.
The largest component on my table for any meal consists of vegetables – especially salads…and I am not talking about just one vegetable component, two to three contorni (side plates) are the norm.
A vegetable side dish is called a contorno. It helps to shape and define the meal and is
intended to complement the main course. Main courses are generally served on their own with
vegetables as a side dish so that all the flavours are distinctive and do not swamp one another.
From my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking
We do not always have meat or fish but I ensure that there is always protein present: eggs, nuts, pulses, cheeses, drained yoghurt, grains. I really enjoy making salads because I can be as creative as I like.
So if the largest part of any meal is the vegetable component and I always enjoy making them why do I write about meat and fish mainly?
I have asked myself this and it is because I think that interesting salads are very easy to make and who wants to read about those?
But maybe some do.
In this post there are some photographs of some of the salads I make and obviously I have not taken photos of all my salads.
Ingredients vary, recipes (especially weights and measures) are never followed.
I enjoy combining cooked ingredients with raw, not just vegetables but meat and fish also.
It is a great way to use up leftovers.
And although I write mainly about Sicilian food what you see below are not necessarily Sicilian or Italian.
I often include fruit in salads and make different dressings with spices and ingredients from different cuisines especially Italian, Moroccan, Middle-eastern and Asian cuisines.
French, Greek and Spanish are there also, but they are similar to the ingredients used in Italian cuisine that I almost forgot to mention these cultures – silly me!
Some of the most popular posts on my blog are about pickling olives or how to dress them once they are pickled.
And I have also had many conversations with people about how to pickle olives so it is time to reveal another pickling method that has worked for my olives for the last couple of years.
I have to say that my olives are small in size and if your olives are larger, this pickling process may take a much longer time. What you could do, is put a split on the side of each olive – this will assist the pickling process.
My tree is in a large pot on my balcony and I bought is from a plant nursery where it was labelled as a Paragon olive tree – it would be called a Frantoio olive tree in Tuscany. Frantoio (Paragon) olives are small and oval in shape and they are mainly used for extracting oil. In the photo below the Paragon olives are on the left and Kalamata olives are on the right.
A ‘Frantoio’ is also the hydraulic press used to extract oil and the processing plant or factory is also called a ‘Frantoio’.
The color of an olive is an indication of its ripeness. Green olives ripen and go from green to light brown and purple, to black. If I am using brine (salt and water) I pick the olives when they begin to turn from green to violet and I go through the usual process of keeping them submerged in a bucket of water and changing the water every day before I place them into brine. Because olives do not all ripen at once I may need to pick the olives in stages and follow through to the pickling process in batches – I cannot say that it is one of my favourite occupations.
However for the last couple of years olive ripening time has coincided with travelling and not wanting to waste the olives I have collected them all at once – green, purple and black – I eliminated the process of the changing of water and all the olives went straight into pickling using water, salt, wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
And this process has worked (for the past two years). The olives are probably more bitter than previous years but I do not mind that at all. I usually leave them about 5-6 months before I eat them.
Every two years the tree produces a large crop and I may collect about 2 kilos of olives. I pickle my olives in a crockpot which I leave on my balcony (there is no room for a crockpot inside my small apartment).
When they are ready I transfer them to jars and add fennel seeds and dry oregano to them. Notice that there is always oil on top and that the olives are submerged.
There are various other ingredients that I add to olives when I dress them (See my other posts about olives).
2 kg olives
1 ½ litres water
5 tbsp heaped salt (I use sea salt for everything)
600 ml wine vinegar
600 ml extra virgin olive oil
Wash and drain the olives and place them in a clean glass jar; I use a crockpot.
Boil the water and add the salt – make sure that it is dissolved. The way to test if the water is salty enough is to float an egg in the water and if the egg’s surface remains above the water, there is enough salt in the water. If it sinks add more salt. Wait till it is cool.
Add the vinegar and cover the olives in the jars finishing with a good layer of olive oil to seal. Use some mesh to keep them submerged – they must be covered.
Set aside until the olives are ready.
Definitely over festive food…..Christmas was great, but…
And now for something completely different.
Tomatoes usually fail to ripen at the end of the season (in autumn) and usually Southern Italians wait till then to preserve green tomatoes. However if you can spare a few, pick some unripe tomatoes (or buy them as I did at the Queen Victoria Market) and make this pickle.
It is very convenient to have this – to eat plain with bread or as an accompaniment to cold meats or cheese.
The photos tell the story.
You need green tomatoes.
Wash, dry and slice into thick slices
Put them in a large colander, and sprinkle with salt….generous amounts.
Leave to drain for 24 hours.
Squeeze them and put them into a bowl and cover them with a mixture made of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Make sure that they are covered and put a weight on top. Leave at least 6- 8 hours.
Drain, and squeeze as dry as you can.
Place the tomatoes into sterilized jars and mix with olive oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), garlic slivers, dried fennel seeds and oregano (add chili flakes if you wish). Make sure they are well covered with oil and keep submerged – I save those plastic rings that keep pickles submerged that are often found in Italian pickles; there is one in the photo above.
Keep in fridge; they are ready to eat in a few days and will keep for months. Make sure that when you remove some of the pickle to eat, the remainder is always covered with oil.
They can be stored in a pantry, but omit the garlic if you do this, as it tends to go off.
Photo by Patrick Varney, Raglan Images for Italianicious ( magazine) Nov- Dec 2010
I first posted the content of this post on Dec 20th, 2010. I called it: PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat?
I am able to view the stats for each of my posts and all of the posts about Christmas have been viewed many times, but this one has not been popular. Is it the title?
It contains some general information about the food that is common in Sicily around Christmas time but it also contains information about Panettone and Panforte – both popular at Christmas. There is also a recipe for Panforte.
Now, on Dec 15, 2014, it is time to post it again and give it another title:
PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
CHRISTMAS IN SICILY
You are probably wondering what Sicilians eat for Christmas in Sicily.
When the respected writer Mary Taylor Simeti (an expatriate American, married to a Sicilian organic wine maker and farmer and most importantly, one of the greatest authorities and writer about Sicilian food) visited Melbourne recently, she and I and pastry cook Marianna De Bartoli, who owns Dolcetti, a pasticceria in North Melbourne, were all asked this same question during an interview for Italianicious Magazine (Nov-Dec issue 2010).
We all gave the same answer, which is that there is no one answer since the cuisine and traditional food of Sicily is very regional. Sicily may be a small island, but the food is very localised and very different from region to region.
The three of us also agreed that Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas day – it is a meatless occasion and fish is the first choice. In some places Sicilians eat stoccofisso (stockfish) or baccala, where in others they eat eel. Usually families wait up and go to midnight Mass. And for those that do, Christmas lunch will often begin with a light first course. For example, chicken broth with maybe some pastina (small pasta suitable for broth) or polpettine (small meatballs) made with shredded cooked chicken meat, egg, a little fresh bread and grated cheese.
In Ragusa, where my father’s family comes they tend to eat the same foods as they do at Easter: scacce and large ravioli stuffed with ricottadressed with a strong ragu (meat sauce) made with tomato conserva (tomato paste) and pork meat.
In other parts of the island gallina ripiena (stuffed chicken cooked in broth) is popular, while others may eat a baked pasta dish, for example: anelletti al forno. timballo di maccheroni or lasagne made with a very rich, strong meat ragu. This may be followed by capretto (kid) either roasted or braised.
There may be cassata or cannoli for dessert or the wreath shaped buccellato made with dried figs, almonds, walnuts, sultanas and spices (from Latin buccellatum meaning ring or wreath).
There are links to recipes for all the words in blue above.
PANFORTE or PANETTONE FOR CHRISTMAS
Both panettone and panforte are popular Christmas sweets in Italy.
In recent years panforte has become popular in Australia, but you are probably more familiar with panettone. This may be because there are so many different brands of panettone available and they are exported to many parts of the world, especially in countries where Italians have migrated.
Italians are very happy to buy both of these Christmas sweets and the big brands are of excellent quality. Generally Italians where ever they live would rather buy these than make them at home. I have never tried to make panettone but I have made panforte several times very successfully.
This Christmas sweet bread is now popular not just in northern Italy where it originated.
It is said that the early version of panettone ( means bread big) was not the light textured, yeast perfumed, fruit bread we are familiar with, before it was made common by industrial production. It was a type of heavy, enriched, Milanese fruit bread baked at home and not just eaten at Christmas time. Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy. As a child growing up in Trieste the most famous panettone was the Motta brand (and still a well known brand in Italy) and part of the charm was opening the box and releasing the fragrance.
Popular brand of Panforte
Panforte is from Siena (within Tuscany) and contains exotic spices of ancient times. It is made with dry fruit and nuts – candied orange peel, citron, chopped almonds, spices, honey, butter and sugar and very little flour to bind the ingredients; it has no yeast, has a very solid texture and is shaped like a disc. Panforte (from pane forte) means strong bread and in earlier times it may have been derived from the Tuscan pane pepato (peppered bread), meaning strongly peppered with spices.
Just like panettone there are some excellent varieties of imported panforte. I like Panforte Margherita (the light coloured version developed in honour Queen Margaret of Savoy’s visit to Siena). Panforte Nero is the dark variety made with dark chocolate.
Being a purist (or as my daughter used to refer to me as a food fascist) I cringe when I see ”gourmet” versions of panforte for sale, some of these contain glace cherries, or glace ginger; I even hesitate at the inclusion of pistachio or macadamia, not the norm, but could be more acceptable.
My favourite recipe is from The Italian Baker by Carol Field (recipe below).
In spite of writing recipes, I am not one for following recipes closely. I always improvise and adapt amounts of ingredients to suit my taste. For example I double the amount of pepper, nutmeg and coriander. On occasions I have also included walnuts and pine nuts which were included in panpepato, a predecessor.
If I make Panforte Nero I add unsweetened cocoa (Dutch cocoa powder about 2-3 tablespoons) and some bittersweet chocolate.
1 cup whole hazelnuts,
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup candied orange peel and citron, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg, ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Heat the oven to 180c.
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until the skins pop and blister, 10 to 15 minutes. Rub the skins from the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until very pale golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Chop the almonds and hazelnuts very coarsely. Mix the nuts, orange peel, citron, lemon zest, flour, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and pepper together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.
Use a 9 inch springform pan; line the bottom and sides with baking paper Heat the sugar, honey, and butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until the syrup registers 242 to 248 on a candy thermometer (a little of the mixture will form a ball when dropped into cold water). Immediately pour the syrup into the nut mixture and stir quickly until thoroughly blended. Pour immediately into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. The batter will become stiff and sticky very quickly so you must work fast.
Bake about 30 to 40 minutes. The panforte won’t colour or seem very firm even when ready, but it will harden as it cools. Cool on a rack until the cake is firm to the touch. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a sheet of paper. Peel off the baking paper. Dust heavily with confectioners’ sugar.
It is Christmas time and this small Pasticceria/ Patisserie in Melbourne (callled Dolcetti) is packed to the ceiling!
Marianna with her angels and her elves have been very busy; they have been filling Dolcetti with delicious sweets, artfully wrapped and displayed.
There is no need for me to say much, the photos speak for themselves.
Last year I asked her to provide a simple recipe (it was for Pistachio shortbread in 2013 ) and this year the recipe is for Spicchiteddi/ Spicchiteddi (Spicchitedda in Sicilian). I will include the recipe at the end of the post.
Marianna has arranged her sweets and produce in a number of attractive packages.
The price for the large box above is $85.There is even a gluten-free smaller hamper.
Buccelati are definitely Sicilian…..those types of ingredients are a legacy of the Arabs.
Another Sicilian favourite is Pignolata… I must not leave out the Calabresi as Pignolata is also common in Calabria. The small Pignolata is $11
Notice one of her angels packing a child’s apron with a biscuit…..something for everyone! There are two types of children’s aprons…Both beautiful.
Marianna makes a Dark and a White version of Panforte – this Christmas sweet originates from Siena.
I always fiddle around with Carol Field’s recipe when I make Panforte. I have written her recipe in a much older post:
This Italian inspired fruit cake comes in three sizes: $5.20, $22.50, $64
Notice that Marianna uses Australian apricots – to me this is very important and demonstrates her use of local and quality ingredients.
The small- snail like biscuits are spicchiteddi (spicchitedda in Sicilian). They are typical Christmas sweets from the Sicilian, Aeolian islands and contain almonds, citrus peel, cinnamon and cloves. They also have vincotto ( vinocotto, vino cotto – ‘cooked wine’) and once again Marianna is using some local produce. This one is made by Paul Virgona.
I have used Vincotto in savoury dishes – it has many uses and I have written about this in an earlier post.
As you can see by the shape of the spicchiteddi, children could shape them – they could wear an apron (as mentioned above).
Here is the recipe that Marianna gave me:
100gms unsalted butter
250 mls vinocotto
150 gms sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
675gms plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup blanched almonds
In a saucepan gently melt the butter and vinocotto.
Remove from heat and add the sugar and orange rind, stir well and allow to cool.
Sift together the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the cooled vinocotto mix and mix lightly to form a dough.
Leave to rest for 10 mins.
Pinch off a tablespoon at a time and roll into a long thin rope approx 2cm thick.
Roll each end into a snail shape.
Decorate with blanched almonds.
Bake at 180c for 10 to 15 mins.
Brush lightly with extra vinocotto whilst still warm.
Helping my mother to make Insalata Russa was my job throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was a legacy from Trieste and a reliable antipasto served on special occasions. She kept making it well into the 80s and then it would re-appear intermittently throughout the years. She would present it before we would sit at a table for a meal, as a nibble… she would pass around a spoonful of Insalata Russa on a slice of bread from a French stick.
Those of you who are of a certain age may remember Rosso Antico (a red aperitif) or a Cinzano (vermouth) or a martini. Sometimes it would be a straight gin with a twist of lemon. Today you may prefer a different aperitif like Aperol or a glass of Prosecco or a Campari – you get the idea!
It keeps well in the fridge and is an easy accompaniment for drinks – I am thinking of those unexpected guests who may pop in …. a drink, a small plate of Insalata Russa and some good bread. If my mother was still alive she would probably be making it on Christmas eve or Christmas day.
Insalata Russa is made with cooked vegetables: peas, green beans, carrots and potatoes cut into small cubes and smothered with homemade egg mayonnaise. She always decorated the top with slices of hard-boiled eggs and slices of stuffed green olives. Sometimes she also placed on top small cooked prawns or canned tuna.
***** Modern Times…..Try it sprinkled with Yarra Valley caviar (fish roe) instead.
Ensaladilla rusa is the Spanish version of this salad and it is a very common tapas dish; It was certainly still popular as a Tapas in Madrid and Barcelona when I was there last year.
The Spaniards make it the same way, but the canned tuna is often mixed in the salad rather than being placed on top. Some versions have olives, roasted red peppers or asparagus spears arranged on top in an attractive design or just plain with boiled eggs around the edge of the bowl.
Making it with my mother, we never weighed our ingredients, but the following combination and ratios should please anyone’s palate.
This recipe (and the photos of the pages in the book) are from my second book – Small Fishy Bites.
2-3 medium sized potatoes, waxy are best
1 cup of shelled peas
3 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 -1 cup of green beans cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup of Italian giardinieria (mixed garden pickles in vinegar) or cetriolini (small pickled gherkins)
1 and 1/2 cups of homemade egg mayonnaise
Cook potatoes and carrots in their skins in separate pans; cool, peel and cut them into small cubes.Cook the peas and beans separately; drain and cool. Hard boil the eggs; peel them and cube 2 of them.Cut the giardiniera into small pieces (carrots, turnips, cauliflower, gherkins).Mix all of these ingredients together with a cup of home made egg mayonnaise.Level out the Russian salad either on a flat plate or in a bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour before decorating it by covering it with the remaining mayonnaise.Have a good old time placing on the top slices of hard-boiled eggs, drained tuna or small cooked prawns and caviar. Bits of giardiniera will also add colour.
My mum made maionese with a wooden spoon. I use a food processor or an electric wand to make mayonnaise:
Mix 1 egg with a little salt in the blender food processor, or in a clean jar (if using the wand).
Slowly add 1–1 ½ cups of extra virgin olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube while the blender or processor is running, Before adding additional oil, ensure that the oil, which has previously been added has been incorporated completely.
Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the mayonnaise is creamy. If you are not making the traditional Italian version, it is common to add vinegar instead of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
As an alternative, the Spaniards like to add a little saffron (pre-softened in a little warm water). Add this once the mayonnaise is made.