Learn from the Pros – Risotto agli Agrumi

This is the first in an exciting new series of posts I am writing called “Learn from the Pros”.  The idea is to get professional chefs to allow me to spend some time with him (or her) in the kitchen and learn some techniques, dishes, tips and tricks of the trade, which I will then share with you, my loyal readers.  Cool idea hey? Yea I thought so too!

I recently met Chef Roberto Pietrella and he graciously offered to be my guinea pig for this feature.  I asked him to give me the lowdown on the technique of cooking risotto, as my last few attempts… well let’s just say it didn’t go so well.

Roberto wanted to do something a little different, so he decided on a zesty citrus risotto, which would go really well with some grilled seafood in the coming summer months.  He describes it as more of a side dish, but I’d quite happily eat it as a mains.

This is a fairly lenghty post, so bare with me.  Get some coffee or a glass of wine and let’s get cracking!




 Risotto agli Agrumi (Risotto with Citrus)

(Serves 4)




  • 120g salted butter (60g at the start, 60g at the end)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 lemon (half the juice, quarter of the zest)
  • 1 orange (half the juice, all of the juice)
  • 1 lime (half of the juice, all of the zest)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 100ml water
  • 500g Arborio rice
  • 200ml dry white wine (Chardonnay / Chenin Blanc)
  • 2.5 L vegetable stock (he advises that you make a mild stock of vegetables you have at home, as stored bought stocks can be overpowering)
  • 120g Parmesan cheese



  • Use a casserole type pan with a wide base and a wall at least 10cm high
  • You shouldn’t need to put cream in a risotto, the creamy texture should come from the starch released of the rice
  • Citrus usually comes with a thin wax coating, so brush them off under running water and dry off with a dishcloth before using the zest.
  • Always use a wooden spoon. It’s best for scraping the bottom of the pot and doesn’t make that awful scratchy sound.
  • Your stock should be kept hot on the side, you do not want to cool down the risotto everytime you add a ladle of stock.
  • Turn off your cellphone and focus. You cannot afford any distractions.
  • Risotto should be cooked on a medium high heat.  On a scale of zero to 8, Roberto suggests 6.5 maybe 7.  Never lower the heat, if the rissoto is burning you’re pan is too dry or you are not stirring well enough, focus!.




Prepare and lay out all your ingredients beforehand, you can’t stop stirring once you start cooking risotto, so you won’t have time to go raid the fridge halfway through. Make sure you got everything you need on hand, including enough wine to drink.



When zesting lemons, you do not want to go too deep into the skin or you will start grating the pith, which is rather bitter. The man suggest that two quick strokes on the gratershould do the trick, then turn and repeat.



If the zest if not fine enough to your liking, give it a chop with a chef’s knife.



Roberto says we often get sold unripe lemons as limes, and that there is a way to check.  Limes have less pronounced dimples on the skin, and the skin is much thinner as you can see below



Juice the required amount from each of the fruit, strain it through a sieve and set aside.



Add half of the butter (60g) to the pan and a tablespoon of olive oil. The oil will keep the butter from burning and going dark.



Once the butter is bubbling hot, add the onions, you should hear a good sizzle.



You don’t want to actually brown the onions, just cook them until soft. To stop them from caramelising too soon, add some water to the pan when it gets dry.  About a tablespoon at a time should do the trick.



Cook the onions for about 2 minutes until they go translucent (a fancy word for see through)



Add the rice and stir well. From this point onwards you are basically going to be stirring continously, so get used to it and quit your moaning. Don’t just stir round and round in circles like a lazy person, you need to go zig zag, criss cross, round and round, you get the idea. Make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies of the pot and scrape the rice off properly.

You also don’t want to be gentle, Roberto describes it as “bruising” the rice to release the starch, so you can give it a good whack.  That’s also why he recommends a pan with a high wall, so you don’t get rice flying all over the place.

Have a look at the rice grains and keep a few to one side as reference.  Notice the pearly white colour it currently has, this will change during cooking.




This stage of the process is called “tostatura” which means “the toasting of the rice”.  It’s an important part, if you don’t do this properly you won’t get the required amount of starch from the rice and the consistency will suffer for it.  Basically we want to toast the rice on medium high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring vigorously.  The rice should suck up most of the liquid in the pan.



Next we add the white wine. If you’ve done the “tostatura” properly you should already see the liquid in the pan becoming a little milky looking, that’s the starch coming out of the rice.



Smell the steam, you should be able to pick up the strong smell of alcohol initially.  When the smell of alcohol goes away (you’ll still smell the flavour of the wine, just not that strong wiff of alcohol) it’s time to add the citrus juice.




Pour in the juice and wait for it to be absorbed into the rice, should be about a minute or two.



Once the juice has been absorbed, it’s time to start adding stock (which I somehow managed to not take any photos of).  At first you can add 3 ladles of stock (about 300ml) and continue stirring until that is absorbed.  Next you can pop in the citrus zest.



You should also add a bit of seasoning (about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper) at this stage, so the seasoning gets absorbed into the rice, not just added as an afterthought at the end.

Now comes the boring part, but do not lose focus! You will be adding a ladle of stock (100ml) at a time, wait for it to get absorbed, and repeat.  It will take roughly a minute per ladle.  You do not want excessive amounts of liquid pooling above the rice, you just want to have enough in there to keep things nice and wet. Do not try to take shortcuts by adding all the stock and hoping it will all get absorbed.  Take your time, this is a labour of love.



After about 6 to 7 minutes, you should start testing some grains of rice.  You will notice that the colour of the grain has gone from the bright pearly white to a more grey and dull looking colour.  I think the fancy word for this is “opaque”.  As the rice cooks from the outside, you will see that bright white colour goes away in the edges, at some point you’ll only see a little dot of pearly white  it in the middle of the grain.  At that point you are nearly there.

This is the part that will unfortunately take a few attempts to master properly.  You need to “feel” when the rice is ready to go off the heat.  The problem is that it will continue cooking from the residual heat in the pan and will continue to absorb moisture, so you need to take it off the heat of the stove a little underdone and with some extra stock left in the pan.  This will take a little practice to get right, but don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get it right soon enough.

Also taste a few grains, if it’s still underdone, the rice will stick to your teeth and you might taste some dry bits.  When that goes away you will still feel some bite to the grain, but not as sticky, and no dry bits. That means you are ready for the next stage.




The next and very important part is what the Italians call “mantecaturaWe will now remove the pot from the heat, add the remaining 60g of butter and the Parmesan cheese, and stir that through, sort of emulsifying the sauce and coating the grains with a rich buttery goodness.  This will also bring together, season and balance out the flavours a bit.



Keep stirring for about 2 minutes until the butter and cheese has been properly incorporated. Taste and adjust final seasoning if need be.



To check if the risotto is the right consistency, tilt the pan a bit forward and give it a shake.  It should be “all’onda” which means “to move like a wave”.  If it doesn’t budge, it is too dry, try adding some stock to loosen it up.  If it flops out of the pan it is too wet, try putting it back on the heat for a minute.



Put the lid on the pot and let it rest for a minute or two while you get ready to plate.  Then serve with some citrus zest as garnish and some parsley.  This is of course up to you, so be creative.




There you have it, the ins and outs of a basic Risotto! I want to thank Roberto and Adriano from the bottom of my heart for the warm and friendly way they welcomed me into their beautiful restaurant Zibaldone, and all the knowledge they shared so freely :)

As always, comments and questions are most welcome, and let me know if you try it out!


But wait! There’s more!

As a bonus, Roberto also showed me a brilliant way to use up the leftover risotto! It’s called Suppli di Riso which is basically deep fried risotto balls, and quite frankly it is one of the best things I have ever eaten.



Suppli di Riso



  • Some leftover Risotto, left overnight in the fridge
  • a cup of flour
  • 2 eggs
  • a cup of breadcrumbs
  • oil for deep frying



Set up your station like below, it helps to have things layed out properly.



Make little balls about the size of a wallnut with your hands, then coat it with flour, shaking off the excess.



Next quickly coat the balls with egg.  Don’t leave it in the egg mix for too long or it will become soggy and break apart.



Next up coat it with some breadcrumbs and place on a tray, repeat with the rest of the rice.  Once done, place the tray in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.





After 30 minutes, give the balls another coating of egg, and then more crumbs.  This “double crumbing” will give you a nice and crispy outer layer.

After you’ve double crumbed all the balls, leave it on the kitchen counter to rest for about 10 – 20 minutes, while you heat up the oil to 180° C



Fry a few of the balls at a time in the oil for 3 to 3.5 minutes until golden.



Drain on some kitchen towel and allow to cool sligtly, then bite into pure awesomeness…



Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions, I’m sure Roberto will be happy to answer them!!


Zibaldone Contact Details

Website: www.zibaldone.co.za
Reservations: 021 914 1771
E-mail: info@zibaldone.co.za 
(We do not take reservations by e-mail.)
Shop 1B, Tygerlake Building,
Tygerfalls Entrance, Tygervalley Waterfront, Bellville

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Author:Fritz Brand

Passionate Foodie, Blues Man, Photographer, Technology Geek and all round cool dude.

12 Responses to “Learn from the Pros – Risotto agli Agrumi”

  1. October 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Lekker! And what a great idea with the leftovers .

    • Fritz Brand
      October 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks! Dude after eating those babies you might end up using all of the risotto as “leftovers” instead!!

  2. October 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Stunning post! And great pics.

    • Fritz Brand
      October 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Thanks Tessa!

  3. Errieda
    October 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    What a fantastic post! If hour readers are as Italian-besotted as I am, they may want to know that Chef Roberto is at the Italian restaurant Zibaldone in Tyger Waterfront. People should also try their tortellini! Hmmm.

    I cant wait to try the citrus with the risotto. Thanks for the good ideas and I look forward to the rest of the series.

    • Fritz Brand
      October 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words Errieda!

  4. Teresa
    October 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Hel dit lyk lekker, gebruik sommer die hele beslag vir Risotto Balls!

    • Fritz Brand
      October 11, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

      Klink vir my na ‘n blink plan!

  5. October 12, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    My spoeg klap nou hande…

    • Fritz Brand
      October 12, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Hahaha, dankie Ziets!

  6. Janice Tripepi
    October 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Absolutely awesome recipe … perfect with some nice fish as you say! Love the suppli – they are a favourite of mine too. Yummmm xx

    • Fritz Brand
      October 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Hi Janice, thanks so much, glad we got your stamp of approval on this one! Those babies are just awesome!

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