Monday, February 23, 2015

Terri Salminen's Roasted Pumpkin Risotto...

I can't even begin to express how honoured I am to feature my friend and Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Super Ambassador Netherlands, Terri Salminen. She is a constant support in our global food revolution ambassador community, and the food photography she shares with us is always beyond stunning! She is a culinary instructor, private chef, food stylist and writer, and weekly contributor to the Dutch edition of Jamie Magazine (see American by birth, and now living in the Netherlands, she had the great fortune to grow up in Italy with her parents and brother. It is a privilege to hear the rich and vivid details of her childhood memories in the countryside of Italy and how it has shaped her cooking philosophy and love for cooking from scratch. She also shares with us step-by-step details interwoven with personal anecdotes and success tips on how risotto can be made at home without being overly complicated, using fresh ingredients in season and with love of course! Without further ado, here's Terri... 

My philosophy... I see the kitchen table as the symbol of society and culture. The amazing variety of life can be traced and passed on through family recipes. Recipes tell the stories of our lives. Exchanging food brings the world together. It is what we all have in common, no matter which culture or country we come from.

My dream... My goal is to inspire by giving. My dream is to teach and to cook while traveling from Europe across the continents. 

I grew up in northern Italy surrounded by purple mountains and neighbourhood grape vineyards. As a child my after school playground was our next door neighbours vegetable garden. As the only Americans in the village, we were well looked after by the local residents. I soaked up the Italian way of life effortlessly out in the beautiful countryside, where food, people and culture are so closely interwoven. I learned how to cook from my mother, while living in a part of the world where grilled polenta and risotto are an essential part of weekly homemade meals. Cooking from scratch came naturally at our house and the kitchen was the centre of a vivid social life. My romantic Italian past forms the foundation for a rich legacy of shared family recipes.

Today the kitchen is not just a place for cooking everyday food for my family. My love of the kitchen, for the simple beauty of the changing seasons and for sitting down at the table with friends and family, are habits I take with me wherever I go. In the course of my travels, I have come to realize that cooking inspires. It also makes memories that go deeper than any photograph. To me, the kitchen is like a never-ending experimental laboratory of the senses.

My cooking style is based upon my Italian experience. Just like my Italian friends, I always want to know what someone is cooking, where they purchased their ingredients and how they make it. Most of all I want to know why they make their food in a certain way. History is to be found in the recipes handed down from generations. My mother taught me the love of cooking and my purpose is to carry on the love, while making good memories for my children from the kitchen table.

Just to whet your appetite with some of Terri's favourite gorgeous shots inspired during her trips to the farmer's market...

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Carrots

This pumpkin and quince photo was taken in February 2015 — to illustrate a blog post for on traditions 
in food — this photo was inspired by Terri's writing on the tradition of pumpkin filled ravioli in the city of Mantova, Italy — 
some say dating back to the Renaissance. 

I grew up with my parents and my brother in the northern Italian region of the Veneto, famous to art students and architects alike for the beautiful cities of Venice, Vicenza and Padova. The kitchen traditions of this part of Italy are an interesting combination of exotic Venetian influence and down to earth country cooking. In this region rice and corn meal are the basic staples to simple and healthy home-cooked meals. Risotto is made with locally grown rice combined with garden-grown ingredients. Unlike many cookbook recipes, risotto is not based on complicated broth bases or rich and luxurious ingredients. It is basically the real fast food of home cooks.

On any given day of the week, I put a steaming bowl of brightly coloured risotto on the table in just over thirty minutes. I start my risotto with a soffritto, and add a favourite vegetable during the cooking process. In the winter, my personal favorite is pumpkin risotto. When I have a special dinner it’s quite fun to make crimson red beet risotto. In the spring, peas and asparagus are the bright green elements that promise warm weather.

It may seem as if making risotto is complicated... I promise you it isn’t! It has four basic elements: the soffritto base, a simple broth, a fresh vegetable and rice cooked little by little through the slow addition of the broth. Here are my suggestions for making easy risotto that go into the mouths of children and adults alike by the spoonful.

In the Veneto, a bowl of risotto for lunch is more common than a plate of pasta. I learned how to make it inadvertently, sitting at the kitchen table reading books as a teenager, while my mother and her best friend Melia prepared Sunday "pranzo". The preparation of a good risotto is intuitive in this part of Italy. It comes with the territory, like Palladian villas and purple mountains framing the northern horizon. Homemade risotto is simple and fresh, based upon seasonal vegetables. It is neither complicated nor time-consuming, rich or heavy. Moreover it is a dish that can be brought to the table in less than an hour. The following recipe is the starting point for many variations on rice with vegetables "alla Veneta”, starting with the soffritto...


Creating a stew of flavours starts with finely chopped onion, carrot and celery cooked in olive oil or butter. This is the basis of the soffritto — a simple combination of three ingredients are the foundation of the comfort foods of Italy.

The key to preparing a good soffritto is based upon a handful of uncomplicated tasks. 
Get your children involved! Making the soffritto and the basic broth are fun, family shared activities. First of all, the ingredients must be finely minced one by one into a uniform size. Secondly, the ingredients must cook slowly in a skillet with a small amount of olive oil on low heat with a pinch of sea salt. Thirdly, the onions are put into the pan first, followed by the carrots and then the celery. Fourthly, the soffritto should be stirred occasionally but not continuously with a wooden spoon. Finally, as the onions slowly turn transparent on the bottom of the pan, as the carrots caramelize and turn burnt orange, the celery contributes a savory element as it softens into pale green. An irresistible combination is born...

Soffritto Base                                                     

. two small red onions (about 200 grams in weight or approx. 1-1/4 cups)
. one to two organic carrots equal in weight to the onion
. one stalk of celery, leaves included
. 50 ml extra virgin olive oil or 3 Tbsp. butter (preferably organic)

Peel the red onion. Wash and peel the carrots. Pull the tough threads off back of the celery stalks with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Chop each vegetable into thin strips and mince them one with a sharp knife. 
Sauté the trio of ingredients in the olive oil with a pinch of sea salt, stirring frequently about five minutes.TIP: To save time, the kitchen machine is a perfectly acceptable tool to chop and mix the onion and carrot. Celery is best when cut with a knife. Regardless of the instrument used, I prefer to chop each ingredient separately. This keeps the flavours pure and simple. 

Secondly, making a super simple broth with meat or fish based broth is wonderfully flavourful. Personally I prefer vegetable based broths when making risotto. Vegetable scraps and peels are incredibly simple and efficient means of making a flavour base for vegetable risottos. The following recipe is made of ingredients that are almost always available in my kitchen. Be sure and use organic vegetable skins and scraps when making this broth.

Basic Red Onion Broth  

. skins of two red onions
. ends of two carrots
. ends of two zucchini (or any other organic green vegetable scraps in your kitchen)
. two bay leaves
. leaves of one sprig of rosemary
. 1 tsp. of sea salt
. 1-1/4 L cold water 

Wash all ingredients. Place them in a pan filled with 1L of cold water, adding sea salt, bay leaves and rosemary. Simmer the vegetables at medium heat until they reach boiling point. Cook the broth ten minutes and remove the onion peels and vegetable scraps immediately (otherwise your broth may become bitter). Allow the broth to cool down before pouring it into a pitcher. Save the broth for up to three days in the refrigerator, or use it right away to make your risotto.

Note: the green tops of leeks make for a savoury and fulfilling broth especially in the winter. Simply replace the red onion skins with the scraps of two leeks.

Roasting Pumpkin and Beets

Pumpkin risotto is sweet and savoury. All root vegetables work well with risotto, so feel free to experiment with parsnips, fennel, beets and Jerusalem artichokes. To make cooking at weekday rush hour easier, prepare the vegetables up to two days in advance. Allow them to cool before tucking them away into the refrigerator.

To roast a small pumpkin, start by preheating the oven to 390F. Wash the pumpkin and cut it in half, leaving the seeds intact. Lay the pumpkin cut side up on a baking platter covered in parchment paper. Sprinkle the pumpkin with sea salt. Brush the surface of the pumpkin just barely with some extra virgin olive oil. Bake the pumpkin 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft and the edges are brown. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and spoon out the seeds (these can be put back into the oven with some herbs and spices and baked until crispy brown in approximately 20 minutes — so don't throw them away). The pumpkin is ready to be added to the risotto.

To roast beets, start by preheating the oven to 390F. When I feel like making a dramatic dish, I roast red beets and use them to make purple risotto. Wash the beetroot well in warm water to remove any dirt or clay. Cut off the beet greens and save them to use as a garnish or for a salad. Brush the beetroot until they shine with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over them. Wrap the beets in parchment paper and place them in a deep dish pan or baking platter. Bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on their size. The beets are generally cooked when an earthy fragrance fills up the kitchen. Allow the beets to cool before peeling them. Puree the beets with a food processor to a fine, bright purple consistency before adding them to the risotto.

Terri's Roasted Pumpkin Risotto
Served 4 to 6 as a main

. 300 grams of organic round-grained rice for risotto such as Baldo, Vialone Nan or Carnaroli
. 200 grams of diced roasted pumpkin
. one soffritto recipe (see above)
. one litre of basic onion broth (see above)
. the leaves of one sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
. 50 ml extra virgin olive oil or one Tbsp. of butter
. five sprigs of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
. about 1/4 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese (or ground almonds)

Prepare soffritto ingredients as explained. Once the carrots and celery have softened and the soffritto smells sweet and fragrant, it is time to add the risotto rice. Stir the rice thoroughly through the soffritto, coating the grains with the oils in the pan. Add extra olive oil, or butter if using, and mix all ingredients at low heat a few minutes before proceeding with the cooking process.

Soffritto and Rice Base.

Add one fourth of the warm broth to the pan. Stir the rice constantly for 10 minutes or until the broth is almost absorbed. Make sure that the heat is regulated in such a way that the rice cannot burn on the bottom while cooking. This will make for a creamy risotto later on. Add another quarter of the warm broth (about three large soup ladles) and stir the roasted pumpkin through the rice. The pumpkin will melt into the risotto during cooking. Stir the rice occasionally, but not constantly, just enough to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom.

When the second amount of broth has been absorbed, taste the rice. If it is soft on the outside with a hard centre in the middle, it is almost done. At this point add three more large soup ladles of broth to the rice along with the grated Parmesan cheese, stirring well. Turn off the heat. Put a lid on the pan and shake it gently back and forth several times.

Let the risotto rest ten minutes. Taste the risotto, making sure not to burn your tongue. Blend in the chopped herbs and add one last ladle of warm broth before serving, adding salt, pepper and grated Parmesan if needed.

Susan says, "I will look no further on how to make a risotto from scratch. This is beyond incredible!"

Variation: To make red beet risotto simply substitute the pumpkin for 150 grams of puréed roasted red beets. Substitute Parmesan for goat’s cheese or Pecorino Romano.

Terri's Notes and TIPS:

Risotto is a meal in itself. Steamed wild spinach or grilled vegetables can be added to the dish for an even healthier and more colourful meal.

Most cookbook recipes for risotto call for chicken broth. I prefer using fresh vegetable broth or even water flavoured, with a few bay leaves and some sea salt.

I have also noticed that most published risotto recipes add wine to the initial cooking process. In my experience, wine is not used when preparing homemade risotto. Cream and garlic are equally scarce in the traditional method I learned from my Mom.

When spooned into a bowl the risotto should not resemble porridge. This is a sign that it has been overcooked or stirred too vigorously. A perfect risotto has recognizable, individual rice grains, kept together with a slightly thickened and flavourful broth.

A fine dust of grated Parmesan is essential to a traditional risotto. Toasted ground almonds or hazelnuts can replace the cheese or be added for extra texture.

Terri currently lives in the Netherlands and writes a blog documenting life’s experiences in the kitchen entitled “ Recipe Writings and Food Memories”. Check it out at

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