Finnish Christmas recipes – Italian salad

In Finnish stores one can find a prepared salad known as Italian salad. It is one of my favourites, and something I always like to have when we visit Finland. Although it is not a traditional part of the Christmas menu, it is something we have always served alongside the very traditional rosolli, and another less traditional beetroot salad. It is made from pasta, hence the name, with ham, peas, and various other ingredients, in a creamy dressing. My own version is not entirely like that which one can buy in Finland, but we enjoy it nonetheless.

For the pasta, macaroni might generally be recommended. However, I am not fond of macaroni, as I generally find the pasta to be too thick, such that the outside is too soft and the inside too chewy. Instead, I like to use a small pasta shape called chifferi rigati – a small, short, curved tubular shape, although any of the smaller shapes would serve well. One challenge with this salad is ensuring that it does not become claggy if prepared ahead of time. Even once cooked, the pasta continues to absorb moisture, so the once creamy dressing will tend to be absorbed whilst the salad sits in the refrigerator. To help prevent this, I cook the pasta until just done, then drain it and place in a bowl of cold water for a while. This seems to help. Of course, one could prepare twice the amount of dressing, and perhaps thin the dressing with a little water.

The recipe calls for a mild prepared mustard of the style common in Finland and Sweden. If not available, reduce the amount to taste, according the strength of the mustard.

Italian salad - a non-traditional accompaniment, perhaps, but always part of our Christmas meal

Italian salad – a non-traditional accompaniment, perhaps, but always part of our Christmas meal

Ingredients

  • 400g chifferi rigati, or other small pasta shape
  • 4 gherkins
  • 2 apples
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion
  • 250g thick sliced smoked ham
  • 200g peas
  • 125g mayonnaise
  • 100g soured cream
  • 40g mild prepared mustard
  • 1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • Coarsely ground white pepper
  • Maldon salt

Method

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water, drain, and place in a bowl of cold water for at least ten minutes.

Cook the peas, then drain and allow to cool.

Finely chop the gherkins and place in a large bowl. Peel the apples, if desired, then core and finely chop. Add to the gherkins, stirring well, so that the acid from the gherkins will prevent the apples from discolouring.

Finely chop the shallots and add to the bowl.

Add the mayonnaise, soured cream, mustard, and vinegar, and mix well.

Drain the pasta. Stir the pasta and peas into the dressing, making sure that everything is evenly coated. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

Slice the ham into short strips and add to the salad, stirring carefully so that it is not broken up.

Cover and refrigerate until needed.

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