Citrus Risotto

I was joking with someone the other day, who was making Judy Rodgers’ Pickled Red Onions. Judy was the chef and owner of Zuni Café in San Francisco and published one of the best books on cooking that has ever been written: The Zuni Café Cookbook. Like a number of her recipes, the method for pickling her famous red onions they serve on the Zuni burgers, seems convoluted and requires what seems like a bunch of unnecessary steps. But like most of Judy’s recipes, the joke is on anyone who doubts her recipes, whose results are always spot-on. (I posted an easier pickled red onion recipe a while afterward, for those that don’t have the stamina to make hers.) One of her famous quotes about her cooking was, “Stop, think, there must be a harder way.”

This unusual combination of citrus and cooked rice prompted the cooks at her restaurant to question her sanity when she put it on the menu, but it’s really wonderful and a breeze to make. It requires just a short list of ingredients and pairs perfectly, with everything from grilled fish and shrimp, to seasonal vegetables like asparagus, peas or fava beans. But it shines just as brightly on its own, too.

Judy was one of the most concerted, and best cooks, I’ve ever worked with at Chez Panisse. (I worked at Zuni Café when I arrived in San Francisco, but before she was the chef/owner there.) One night she was on salad duty, making some sort of composed salad that had sliced pears on it. She had the pears submerged in a bin of cold water at her work station and when I asked her why she was carefully tending to each pear, she said; “I’m cooling them down.”

When I mentioned the refrigerator was just a few steps away, she replied that in the refrigerator, “…they get too cold.” Room temperature was too warm and she wanted them served at exactly the right temperature. I don’t know if any customers noticed, but it was that kind of detail that she thought (or knew) made a difference.

Citrus is a sturdy friend. It lasts quite a while in the refrigerator and is usually available. And I find citrus is always welcome in any meal, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It also pairs particularly well with seafood. So during the lockdown, I went to Picard, the popular French frozen food store, and picked up some shrimp.

I’ve wanted to try this recipe for years. I have a recipe card (above) from when I participated in a citrus festival at Central Market in Texas, that I think I’ve had for almost 15 years now, with a citrus risotto that I’ve never made. (One roadblock was that we don’t get Meyer lemons in Paris.) But Judy Rodgers has never failed me, so went with her recipe that uses grapefruit and lime.

During the lockdown, one plus is that the food police can enjoy a much-needed break. You don’t have to worry about using the wrong pasta in a classic dish. I melted down odds and ends of several packets of flavored butters that I found in my freezer (including a browned one had a little sweetener in it) to make cornbread, and didn’t get shamed for it. (Woo-hoo!) And I even got away with using pineapple juice from a carton to make a cocktail. I don’t know about you, but I am loving this lockdown.

And although it’s usually interdit to serve fish and cheese together (yes, I’m eying some of those cans of tuna I have in my larder for tuna melts…) the sautéed shrimp worked beautifully with this easy risotto, flecked with tangy, bright bits of pink grapefruit and lime.

Citrus Risotto
Print Recipe
6 servings
I've not tried to make risotto with another type of rice; I always use either arborio or carnaroli. I have, however, used short-grain or round rice in similar rice-based dishes and it worked well. This article on rice for risotto says any short- or medium-grain will work in its place. Basically you want rice that will give up a certain amount of starch, which gives risotto its signature creaminess. In this recipe, a spoonful of mascarpone added at the end also adds that, too. If you can't find it, crème fraîche or sour cream, or even heavy cream, would work, although they aren't the same flavor as mascarpone. I served this with shrimp pan-fried with butter, olive oil, and chives, but it would be good with firm-fleshed fish, like salmon or halibut. You could also serve it with vegetables, such as steamed or oven-roasted asparagus, or broccoli. If fresh peas are in season, you might serve it on its own with a few handfuls of them stirred in at the last minute.
1 grapefruit (you'll need about 3/4 cup of sections, along with any juice)
1 lime
2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
1/2 cup (60g) finely diced yellow onion
2 cups (390g) arborio or carnaroli rice (see headnote)
3 1/2 to 5 cups (850-1200ml) chicken stock (if using store-bought stock, get low-sodium)
1/4 cup (65g) mascarpone
1. Lop the ends off the grapefruit and the lime. Use a paring knife to remove the skin and cut the segments out over a bowl, being sure to save any citrus juices as well. If there are any tough bits of membrane attached to any citrus segments, remove them with a knife. Squeeze the membranes over the bowl after sectioning to extract as much juice as possible.
2. Heat the butter over low-to-medium heat in a medium saucepan (4-6 quarts/liters.) Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with butter and shiny. While you are cooking the onions and rice, heat the stock in a saucepan and keep warm while you continue making the recipe.
3. Stir about 2 cups (500ml) of the stock into the rice. Keep the heat at a gentle simmer and as the first amount of stock gets absorbed, while stirring occasionally, add another 1 cup (250ml) or so, stirring as needed, to keep the rice cooking and absorbing the liquid evenly. Continue to add more stock, about 1/2 cup (125ml) or so at a time, seasoning the risotto with salt when the rice is very close to being fully cooked. At that point, add the citrus sections and juice to the risotto, crumbling them roughly as you add them to the risotto. Gently cook the risotto, continuity to stir occasionally until the rice is no longer firm. It's hard to say exactly how much stock the rice will absorb, but it's done when the rice is soft and velvety, and no longer tastes raw. I used the full 5 cups of stock but yours may require less.
4. Remove from heat and stir in the mascarpone. Divide into soup bowls, mounding the risotto in the center of the dish. Serve with shrimp, fish, or vegetables, as desired.
Citrus Risotto

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  • Polly Dickens
    May 4, 2020 12:17pm

    I can’t eat grapefruit – do you think a big lumpy italian lemon would work? I don’t think that they are as sour as the normal sort. Many thanks! Reply

    • May 4, 2020 12:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think a sweeter lemon, like Meyer or Menton lemon would work. Am not sure what kind of lemon those are that you’re referring to but if they’re not overly tart and/or harsh, I think they’d be fine. Reply

      • jvb
        May 4, 2020 9:19pm

        If using Meyer lemon, is the quantity 2 tablespoons as indicated in the photographed recipe? Reply

      • Carla P Blanco
        May 11, 2020 4:19pm

        How about using an orange? Reply

  • DrRandy
    May 4, 2020 12:25pm

    I bet this would also go nicely with a simply grilled chicken breast, or alongside chicken francese instead of pasta. Reply

    • May 4, 2020 10:03pm

      That’s not the recipe here. That’s from a citrus festival I was part of that I mentioned in the post a little further down. Reply

  • Katie
    May 4, 2020 12:37pm

    thank you David! fresh and delicious idea .. I have grapefruit and chives … I shall find shrimp :) Reply

  • Cathy
    May 4, 2020 12:53pm

    I have some lovely preserved lemons- would that be good in place of the grapefruit? Reply

      May 4, 2020 11:24pm

      If you used preserved lemons, be careful not to use any other salt in the recipe. The preserved lemons are so intensely salty. I love to make my own preserved lemons, but I use them sparingly in recipes until I establish that the recipe can withstand that much salt. Reply

    • penelope
      May 5, 2020 2:46pm

      Preserved lemon risotto is delicious. Obviously, they are so strong and salty you cut them up Very small and use less. But I don’t know about the marscapone with it. Reply

  • Karen de Villiers
    May 4, 2020 1:44pm

    Thank you so much for your lovely recipes, blogs and instagram videos … you make life so much sweeter at this time x Reply

  • Julie
    May 4, 2020 2:01pm

    is the lumpy Lemon a Cedro perhaps? I buy it already Glaceed to use in fruit cakes but have never seen a fresh one in Australia. When I make a seafood risotto I poach my Ocean trout (or the prawns) in the stock just before I’m finishing up the Risotto. Reply

  • Elisabeth Lewis
    May 4, 2020 2:04pm

    Dear David
    Thank you for brightening my days with your good humour and expertise. Stuck in lockdown in Wales I managed to completely rupture my quad tendon on Easter Sunday. Well, I can’t go anywhere anyway, but I can’t cook either after the operation.
    You are giving me inspiration for when I can get organised again.
    Thank you so much, bises xx Reply

  • Lisa
    May 4, 2020 2:05pm

    This sounds delicious. I love anything citrusy. Since you mentioned your tuna melt I must comment as the comments for that recipe were closed and I made it last night. Awesome! The zucchini was perfect, not overly cooked ( am I am not a big fan of it except in zucchini bread). I added a cup of halved cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of panko on top. Thank you for all of your inspiration! Reply

  • Bo
    May 4, 2020 2:12pm

    Can you offer kosher versions of your recipes? Especially versions that are non meat and non dairy. Thank yiu. Reply

      May 4, 2020 4:30pm

      Get a grip, Bo! This guy is an internationally best selling blogger. Even if you don’t read his posts regularly, you should be able to discern that he is busy.

      You, I presume are kosher…ergo, figure it out! It isn’t hard. Reply

      • Chantelle
        May 6, 2020 5:14pm

        I feel it is a lost opportunity when people ask what to sub for the sugar, or can it be GF, or something they can’t eat etc.

        Their question suggests they’ve been making these subs for awhile. They should be posting so we can all learn HOW to do it rather than asking IF it can be done.

        There are loads of www specifically about sugar, gluten, kosher, citrus etc that they can reference & from which they can learn. Then they make it a better world by sharing it with us and others. Reply

    • Lee
      May 4, 2020 5:53pm

      Top with a piece of sauteed kosher fish, or with chicken and don’t use any dairy. Voila – kosher. Reply

  • Tonia
    May 4, 2020 3:10pm

    Another appealing recipe. I like your writing style so much with its evocations of Paris and French approach to cooking and food.
    We bought last week your Parisian cooking book. It’s here. Ready to use to brighten Lockdown England.
    Merci beaucoup. Reply

    • May 5, 2020 12:40pm

      One of our favorite cookbooks ever. You’ll enjoy it. Reply

  • May 4, 2020 3:42pm

    in isolation here in Toronto with 1/2burrata (and some fresh cream cheese) and everything else except shrimp and a lime (which, now thrilled by the chase, I can get) … laughed when you said you were loving this lockdown – moi aussi Reply

  • Linda V
    May 4, 2020 3:48pm

    Would blood oranges work instead of grapefruit? In lockdown on Martha’s Vineyard where we can buy fresh scallops right off the boat. Feeling blessed. Thanks for your blog and your books. Reply

    • jane
      May 6, 2020 10:39pm

      Citrus is citrus – use what you have? Should go without saying. . . Reply

  • Kathy
    May 4, 2020 4:04pm

    Your blog always brightens my day! I gave my daughter my copy of Judy’s book and I’m feeling regretful. But, she loves it! Reply

  • May 4, 2020 4:52pm

    Anything with citrus feels so cheerful and I keep frozen shrimp in the freezer. Living in Colorado, even if we buy “fresh” shrimp, we’re sure it’s been frozen! Sounds like a winner for this week if I can score some grapefruit ;) Reply

    • May 4, 2020 5:22pm
      David Lebovitz

      In a lot of places, “fresh” shrimp (and fish) were often previously-frozen. Grapefruit, however, should always be fresh ;) Reply

  • Laura
    May 4, 2020 5:31pm

    I have the lovely problem of too many lemons. I asked friends with Meyer lemon trees (in SF) to bring me some. I have 6, two need to be used soon. Other than lemonade, anybody have ideas other than lemonade? Reply

    • Chris
      May 4, 2020 6:05pm

      Laura…squeeze the juice into your glass of white wine! :) Reply

      • May 5, 2020 3:37am

        What an idea!!!! I will try this Reply

    • Sandra Alexander
      May 5, 2020 2:31am

      Marmalade, lemon curd, lemon chicken – Dr Google has dozens of recipes! One provisio – I wouldn’t recommend Meyer lemons for pickled lemons, the skin is too thin. Reply

    • jane
      May 6, 2020 10:58pm

      I always juice them into silicon ice cube trays then store them in gallon ziplocks in the freezer – they last all year.

      But if you only have two, it’s not too early for froze´, imo. Blend strawberries – frozen or fresh – with lemon and sweetener; I use agave. This year I also added a few sticks of rhubarb I’d cooked down with agave to the blend, but I usually use canned litchi which is: *chef’s kiss* with strawberries. It makes enough to freeze in small ziplocks. I’ll pull one bag out each week to defrost in the fridge. Add a solid pour to rose´wine you’ve frozen in, yet again, a ziplock.

      I’ve been meaning to get those silicon ziplocks because I do use them so often for the freezer and feel so guilty about it. So I will do that and recommend it. Reply

  • Bob Knudson
    May 4, 2020 6:26pm

    Sounds yummy!

    Just a little correction on the recipe…1/2 cup is 240ml, not 60ml. Reply

    • Usi
      May 4, 2020 6:33pm

      1/2 cup is 125 ml, not 240 or 250. You don’t want to ruin what looks like a great recipe! Reply

      • Bob Knudson
        May 4, 2020 11:38pm

        Oops, sorry! My mistake. Reply

    • May 4, 2020 6:45pm
      David Lebovitz

      Fixed! : ) Reply

  • Jeremy
    May 4, 2020 6:47pm

    Sounds amazing

    There certainly are “mild” and lovely lemon varieties in Europe that should stand in just fine for a Meyer Lemon. Lemons from Sorrento and Sicily are very mild in acidity and almost have an orange/lemon profile. I’ll have to hunt down Meyer Lemons here in Chicago and make this. Reply

  • mahri
    May 4, 2020 10:00pm

    I never have the patience (rumblings of a hungry stomach) to make risotto… so I apply the same technique to orzo. Time to venture into the depths of my freezer for shrimp! Reply

  • KJill
    May 4, 2020 10:56pm

    Well I had everything – except the cheese – subbed in some drained home made whole milk yogurt. Odd sounding combos always make me think there must be some magic happening here. There is! Made this for lunch and it was fantastic. Used shrimp because it was easy but this would work with a variety of citrus and seafood or chicken. Topped with a little zest from the lime and fresh chives from the garden. Simple but special Thanks! Reply

  • Ms. M.
    May 4, 2020 11:09pm

    Thank you for including a photo of the Meyer lemon version. I can’t eat grapefruit but have a tree full of Meyer lemons…and coincidentally was planning to make some kind of risotto for dinner tonight! Win-win. Reply

  • Rachel
    May 5, 2020 3:52am

    But that green bowl! With the grapefruit in it! So beautiful.
    Thank you for everything you do David, especially during this strange time. x Reply

  • Lynne from San Diego
    May 5, 2020 5:24am

    David, I love your stories. I will give this recipe a try but will use a Cara Cara navel orange and lime. They are a blend of a red grapefruit and a navel orange. Will also try the picked onions! Reply

  • Todd
    May 5, 2020 8:17am

    Greetings from LA! Made this tonight and it was so delicious. Was skeptical at first with all of the citrus but was pleasantly surprised at how well the flavors came together. First time I’ve made risotto and your directions made it so easy! Drinking French is arriving soon and I can’t wait to dive in.

    I’ve really looked forward to the daily Apéro Hour. Your sincerity and warmth has inspired me during these uncertain times. Thank you! Reply

  • jane
    May 6, 2020 10:43pm

    Well perfect timing, as I need a couple halved grapefruit rinds to combat slugs in the garden who’ve just discovered my beloved butter lettuce! I will use the fruit for an asparagus version of this recipe and the scooped shells for the garden. Thank you so much. Reply

    • Chantelle
      May 8, 2020 5:00pm

      What a scream! Prepare your palate for real excitement!!

      I used my own chicken bone broth. Had a grapefruit from making candied peel. I used lemons instead of limes and had no marscapone (isolation cooking). I stirred in grated Parmesan and it worked very well. Served with sautéed herbed shrimp and fried rosemary.

      My husband said it was better than good!

      I agree. Reply

  • Bobbi
    May 12, 2020 7:08pm

    Had some mascarpone that needed to be used, so thought this would be perfect. My husband made it with an orange (I can’t eat grapefruit) and shrimp. It was unbelievably good! Can’t wait to try this with other fish and vegetables. It will be a go-to in our home. Merci beaucoup for sharing this! Reply

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