Limoncello, an ancient lemon liqueur + FUN NEWS
|March 19, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under Drinks and cocktails, Italia, Italian, italy, lemon|
Here is my fun news first: I have just become a featured contributor to Honest Cooking, The Food Magazine, a new international daily online food publication that features articles covering news and opinion, recipes, stories, wine, beer, travel and testing. Below is my first article for them.
Limoncello, an ancient lemon liqueur
Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn? (Do you know the country where the lemons bloom) ~ Goethe
That land where the lemons bloom is Sorrento, along the Amalfi coast, and across the island of Capri. I recently visited in January. It is where I grew up and spent many endless sunshine-filled summers. In that sunshine, on a highly fertile volcanic soil, and with the gentle breeze from the Mediterranean sea, the lemons that Goethe sings of, not only bloom, they become gorgeous, plump citruses, with an almost gnarly skin, a sweet aroma , and a powerful fragrance. They are in fact so unique that they have been granted protected geographical indication. The lemon groves in Sorrento are beautifully maintained. During the winter the lemon trees are covered with “pagliarelle”, artisanal chestnut wood pergolas that protect the lemons from any drop in temperature. These trees are cradled until spring comes, when the blossoms surround the whole town with a magic aroma.
Limoncello (some may say lemoncello or limoncino) is a liqueur made by infusing lemon zest in alcohol and then mixing it with simple syrup. It is very important to use only the zest and avoid the white pith, which is bitter. They say that the monks made this in their convents along the Amalfi coast centuries ago and that fisherman would take it with them when venturing at sea in the winter: who blames them? The monks, who were great “potion” creators, would infuse liqueur with many different ingredients: rose petals (which makes rosolio), herbs (rosemary, mint, fennel fronds), even coffee, and various other citruses (tangerine, orange)…but the lemons became quickly the most popular addition.
One Christmas, just a few years ago, I made a variation that our friends loved: in addition to the lemon zest, I added the zest of blood oranges, a cinnamon stick and some pomegranate seeds: it made a wonderful rose colored rosolio, quickly christened by a happy group of partiers we were entertaining in our patio around the fire pit: fuoco dolce (sweet fire)!
The procedure to make Limocello is very simple but the key is the quality of the lemons: Limoncello with Sorrento lemons is actually a registered trademark. If you can’t access them, don’t panic: you can use the best organic, pesticide-free, kind you can find. Italians typically keep a small bottle of Limoncello at all times in their freezer to serve after dinner (don’t worry, it will not freeze because of the high alcohol content), especially during the summer. Personally, I like it at room temperature: I think you can taste its rounded flavor a lot better that way. Be careful though…it is quite strong, especially in the version made with grain alcohol. My father calls it David and Goliath, adding these words: “a little one stones you!”
A common misconception is that you have to wait for months to infuse your lemon peel…I have found, by trial and error, that a couple of weeks is all it takes: I did not notice improved flavor for steeping beyond that point. One trick to making your Limoncello a bit clearer and more transparent is to strain it through coffee filters once it has finished steeping with the sugar syrup. Since it is quite tedious to peel the lemons I recommend you invite a friend over while doing this, and possibly sip a bit of the previous batch in the process!
1 (750 ml) bottle of Everclear alcohol or other 95% pure grain alcohol (waaaay better –and stronger– than vodka. Or use half grain, half vodka)
8-10 medium to large ORGANIC lemons
For the simple syrup:
750 ml of Water (filtered tap water or distilled water) > use the empty alcohol bottle to measure
3 1/2 cups of white granulated sugar (about 25 oz)
Wash the lemons very well (I use a vegetable brush) to remove any residue or wax. Dry them off. Using a carrot/potato peeler, take all the lemon rinds off of the lemons (IMPORTANT: leave NO white pith on the peel: it is very bitter!): peel the lemons like you would an apple. Place the rinds in a large glass container with the Everclear alcohol. Cover the container and let it sit for a week (in a pinch you can do 4-5 days, if you are patient you can wait 2 weeks). After that, strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol and discard them. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining water and sugar. Let it come to a boil (DO NOT stir) and then let it simmer (small surface bubbles) for about 10 minutes, then allow to cool completely, to room temperature. Add to syrup the lemony alcohol and let stand OVERNIGHT (so “stuff” deposits). The last step, is straining the whole thing through a coffee filter lined funnel: this makes it nice and clear of all impurities. Bottle, freeze and share with friends!!!
Limoncello is perfectly fine served as is, but I also love to make a Limoncello martini (although for purists I am well aware this is not an actual martini) sometimes especially if I am throwing a summer party. It looks wonderful and it is slightly lighter than the pure infusion.
1 lemon: juice and peel (optional: one more lemon to decorate)
Sugar: enough to coat the rim plus 1 Tbsp.
3 oz. vodka (lemon flavored for extra lemoni-ness)
1 oz. limoncello
Peel the lemon and set aside the peel. Then squeeze the lemon in a bowl. Dip the rim of the martini glass in the lemon juice then in sugar, to coast the rim. Chill the glass in the freezer while assembling the martini. Add the leftover lemon juice in the shaker, then add the reserved lemon peel, the one tablespoon of sugar, the vodka, and the limoncello. Add ice. Shake and pour into the frozen glasses. Serve if desired with a small slice of lemon.
Here I am walking through a Sorrento lemon grove on my last January visit: