In the previous article, I described those seasonal dishes that make up our Finnish Christmas meal. In this article, I provide recipes for the three baked dishes that accompany the main course, the ham. These dishes are each made from pureed winter vegetables – swede, carrot, and potato – all of which we have available from store or, in the case of swede, currently standing in the bed through the mild weather thus far.
The swede dish, known as lanttulaatikko in Finnish, or kålrotslåda in Swedish, is arguably the most popular and important accompaniment to the main course. The swede are cooked until tender, and then blended until smooth. It is well worth making a good job of this, using a hand blender, for example, to produce a smooth puree. As it is quite wet, it can be readily pushed through a fine sieve, if need be, to remove any small lumps. The swede puree is subtly spiced with white pepper, ginger, and nutmeg. These should not be prominent in the finished dish, just a hint in the background. A little sweetness is provided by some syrup and richness by milk, cream, and eggs, bound with some breadcrumbs. The mixture will be quite wet, but will come together when baked.
The carrot dish, known as porkkanalaatikko in Finnish, or morotslåda in Swedish, is given similar treatment to the swede. Coarsely chopped carrots are boiled in a little water until tender. They are then blended with a little of the cooking water until smooth. Again, if needed, passing through a sieve only takes a couple of minutes. The puree is enriched with cream, butter, and egg, and sweetened with a little syrup. Rice is a common addition to the puree to provide some substance, but in recent years we have made a version with semolina instead, which we seem to prefer.
The potato dish, known as imelletty perunalaatikko in Finnish, or potatislåda in Swedish, is rather unusual. The potatoes are boiled, in their skins, then peeled whilst hot, and quickly mashed. A little plain wheat flour is mixed in, then the mash left in a warm place overnight. A low oven is ideal for this purpose. An interesting reaction takes place, whereby the amylase in the flour breaks down the starch in the potatoes, converting them to sugars. Salt interferes with this process, so it is important not to salt the water or the potato puree until just before baking. A floury potato is ideal for this dish, and waxy sorts are best avoided. Take care, though, to boil gently, to avoid them turning to mush in the pan – a problem more likely with home grown potatoes taken from storage, perhaps. Once the sweetening reaction has taken place, milk and a little butter are added, then it is baked in a fairly low oven for several hours. The whole dish turns to a rich golden colour. The sugars caramelise and, with the dairy, produce an unusual almost fudge like quality. The flavour of mashed potatoes is still there, but with a sweet and rich caramel finish. It is odd, to say the least, and not to everyone’s taste, but nonetheless a common part of the Finnish Christmas table and well worth trying.
Each of the recipes below is based on one kilogram of the main ingredient, so that they may be readily scaled. This is the prepared weight, so after peeling and chopping, but before cooking. One kilogram is probably a sensible amount to prepare for a typical family gathering. These recipes are not unique, in the sense that various similar recipes can be found for these dishes, but this is how mother-in-law Riitta and I like to prepare them. We made these ahead of time this year, as there is much to do on the day, and made careful notes this time so as to be able to reproduce the recipes here. We made ours in foil trays, which we popped in the freezer, and will take out on the evening of the 23rd and reheat in the oven on Christmas Eve. Of course, one could use any suitable bakeware. Butter the bakeware as needed.