Meyer Lemon Risotto

February, March, not much is growing this time of year, and usually the weather is blustery and rather gray. That is, except for the citrus. All over Sacramento, and most of California, orange, grapefruit, and lemon trees are laden with bright fruit. Meyer lemons in particular are well suited for home landscapes, which is why so many people have their own backyard tree. Supposedly they don’t orchard well, but if they are spaced out enough, as in one in my backyard and one in yours, they’re fine. The fruit is a cross between an orange and lemon, so the peel is a little more orangey than a regular lemon, and the juice is not nearly as tart. The peel itself is also mild. Sometimes we look out into the backyard to find that some critter has eaten all of the peel off of a few Meyer lemons, leaving whole globes of lemon segments naked.

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Last year I lost half of my Meyer lemon tree to a big storm (made a big batch of marmalade with the fallen fruit), so I planted a new tree. It will take a few years to get established though, so I make frequent runs to my parent’s house to mooch some from their trees.

So, here is a lovely risotto for this time of year, made with Meyer lemons. You could use regular lemons, just don’t use as much juice, because regular lemons are much more tart. The recipe comes from my friend Jay Cohen, who stopped by to hang out and cook with me. Jay loves to cook, he used to run a creperie in town (The Black Cat), and just so you know, he doesn’t measure. Which means I was following him around with measuring spoons and cups the whole time he was here. Still, the recipe is basically a guideline, like most recipes. Feel free to experiment and add, subtract to taste. If you want a more distinct lemon flavor, add more zest. If you want more lemon flavor and more tartness, add more lemon juice. If you want more of a buttery, cheesy flavor, use more butter at the start, and stir in some more grated Parmesan near the end. Think about what you are serving this risotto with. It isn’t meant to be a stand alone dish, but an excellent partner to something like fish or scallops. Lamb would be good too. I even used some leftovers in a taco with strips of beef. Excellent.

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Jay, stirring the risotto

  • Prep: 5 minutes
  • Cook: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

We are using water and a little wine for the liquid in this recipe, to accentuate the lemon flavor. You could also easily use stock.

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) water
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 a med onion)
  • 2 cups arborio rice or other risotto rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 or 2 Meyer lemons, enough for 1 Tbsp of zest, and 3 Tbsp of juice (if using regular lemons instead of Meyer, you'll need less juice, start with 1 Tbsp and add more to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp of chopped, fresh oregano leaves (can also use mint)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (optional)

Method

1 Put 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) of water into a pot. Add 1 level tablespoon of kosher salt (or 2 level teaspoons if you are using table salt). Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to warm, cover and keep warm while you make the risotto.

2 In a large, wide sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

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3 Add arborio rice. Stir to coat. Cook, stirring, 5-7 minutes, until the rice just barely begins to brown on some of the grains.

4 Add the wine. Stir continuously, a few minutes, until the liquid has been completely absorbed by the rice.

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5 Lower the heat to medium low. Start adding the hot salted water to the rice, one ladleful (about 1/2 cup) at a time. After each addition, stir continuously for a few minutes until the rice has completely absorbed the liquid. Stir enough to keep the rice from sticking to the edge of the pan. Stirring continuously helps extract starch from the rice, to make a creamy sauce for the rice. You'll end up adding a total of about 4 to 5 cups of water, depending on the rice you are using (older rice may need more water). Continue to add water and stir, until the rice is cooked through and just a tiny bit chewy. The whole process should take about 30 minutes or so. Risotto is a labor of love.

6 Stir in 2 Tablespoons of the lemon juice, the lemon zest, chopped oregano, and black pepper, reserving a little bit of lemon zest and oregano to sprinkle on top upon service. Do a taste test. If the rice needs more seasoning, add more salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if you want.

To serve, sprinkle a little lemon zest and fresh oregano on top, along with a few toasted pine nuts and finely grated Parmesan if using. Use as an accompaniment to fish, shellfish, or lamb.

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