If you want to sample Italy in a glass, you need go no further than a cool hit of Limoncello.
The first time I savoured a glass of this pale yellow lemony lusciousness, I was in its birthplace – Sorrento. And, it wasn’t until I travelled back to Italy years later that I sampled it again. I took a bottle of it home and relished every last precious drop of it. Knowing how much I enjoyed it, my sweet mum bought me, at great expense I might add, a bottle of it for my birthday. I used some of it in my dessert-making – like this Limoncello Tiramisu – but, at the prohibitive cost of the imported liqueur, worried that it was a bit wasteful.
A while later, I was watching the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ where Francis’ love interest, Marcello, explains how Limoncello is made. And, I thought… ‘well heck, I could do that!’. Okay, I might not have access to the sun-kissed Femminello St. Teresa lemons used traditionally in Limoncello, but I do have a tree full of lemons. I’d call that a good start.
And, true to Marcello’s word, making Limoncello was incredibly simple. It’s less technique, more patience that’s required. All that’s involved, is peeling a bunch of lemons, soaking the peel in vodka, and then waiting for the Limoncello to ‘mature’. Finally, you add a simple sugar syrup and you’re done. Yep, simple as that.
I borrowed this recipe from Emma Christensen on TheKitchn.com. It’s super simple, as I said, and the taste is really superb.
The most important thing here, of course, is the lemons you use. Make sure you use organic lemons – you absolutely do not want to use lemons that have been sprayed with nasty chemicals. And, it’s important, when you peel the lemons, to get rid of as much of the white pith as possible. Too much pith, and the result will be really bitter. Having said that, I rather like a touch of bitter in my Limoncello, to cut the sweetness. For that reason, I cut the peel off using a paring knife, shaving off as much of the additional pith as much as possible. However, if you don’t ‘do’ bitter, use a peeler or microplane instead.
Finally, while you can let the peel sit in the vodka for as little as 4-7 days, you’ll get a much more robust flavour if you let it sit for a month. You can also deepen the flavour further by leaving the peel in, once you add the sugar syrup, for another 2-4 weeks. I did this, and I can testify that the result is pretty gutsy.
Now that I’ve got an endless potential supply of Limoncello, I will never again feel guilty about using it in my cooking. And, I’ll most certainly enjoy the occasional cool shot, just because I can. Enjoy!
- 10 organic lemons, washed and dried
- 750ml (1.5 US pint) vodka
- 1 to 4 cups sugar, to taste
- 1 to 4 cups water, to taste
- Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the peels from all the lemons. Try to remove only the outer yellow skin and as little of the pith as possible. Trim away any large pieces of pith with a paring knife, but don't worry about trimming every last scrap.
- Transfer the lemon peels to a 1-quart or 1-litre jar and cover with vodka. Secure the lid.
- Let the vodka and lemon peels infuse somewhere out of the way and out of direct sunlight for at least 4 days or as long as a month (I let mine sit for about 5 weeks). The longer you let the vodka infuse, the more lemony your Limoncello.
- Remove the lemon peel with tongs or a slotted spoon and keep aside (only if you do the optional step below; otherwise discard). Line a strainer with a large coffee filter (I used muslin) and set it over a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl. Strain the infused vodka through the filter. You may need to stir the vodka in the strainer if the flow stops.
- Prepare a sugar syrup of at least 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar — bring the water to a simmer and stir in the sugar to dissolve; allow to cool.
- Pour the sugar syrup into the infused vodka. Stir gently to mix. Taste and add additional sugar syrup if desired.*
- You can, as I did, return the Limoncello to the original jar/s and put the lemon peel back in with it, to let it sit for a further 1-2 weeks before straining and bottling.
- If you've kept the peel in with the Limoncello, remove the peel with tongs or a slotted spoon. Then insert a funnel into the neck of your storing bottle/s (I stored mine in the same jars I used previously) and fill with Limoncello. Repeat with remaining bottles.
- Chill the Limoncello in the fridge or freezer for at least 4 hours before drinking. Limoncello can be kept in the fridge for up to a month or the freezer for up to a year (and often much longer!). It can get a little 'cloudy' over time; just give it a good shake before serving.
- Serve Limoncello chilled, straight from the fridge.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC ‘Art’ lens / Natural lighting