|Along the Amalfi coast of Italy, grow uniquely fragrant and beautiful lemons, known as Sorrento lemons. Some are yellow, some green, some pink. Some are oval, some round – some tiny, others quite large. The region is justly famous for these lemons, which are sold at premium prices in and around the region – and from those lemons is made the sweet, greenish-yellow, liqueur known as limoncello. Now, limoncello has been made in Southern Italy since at least the 19th century, but recently it has enjoyed a new popularity –in a word, limoncello has become trendy.
Limoncello (pronounced lee-mohn-CHEH-loh) is best kept in the freezer where it becomes thick and syrup-y. It is piquant and refreshing, and may be served in a small glass as a palate cleanser or as an after-dinner drink over cracked ice. In days of old, it was commonly poured over cake slices – and it also may be tossed with fresh fruit or berries, or served over ice cream, or mixed in to flavor gelato. A few weeks ago, an article in the New York Times described the latest popular dish: babas (little brioche-like sweet yeast cakes) soaked in limoncello – now frequently served in Italian restaurants and apparently sold in glass jars in every other touristy shop along the Italian coast.
In that same article, the author included a recipe for limoncello, adapted from “Lemon Zest” by Lori Longbotham (Broadway Books), which appears below, slightly adapted for our format. Many recipes for this beverage call for a considerably longer resting time – up to 3 months, but a good deal of flavor is developed in this version, which requires only 15 days; allow it to stand longer, if you prefer.
|MAKES 2 FULL-SIZE BOTTLES (EACH ABOUT 750 MILLILITERS, OR ABOUT 3 CUPS)
1 750 milliliter bottle, vodka – preferably 100-proof
1 1/2 cups, sugar
3 cups, spring water
|Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest (colored part of the peel) from the lemons, being careful not to include any of the white pith – which is bitter.
Place the zest in a half-gallon jar with a tight-fitting lid, and add the vodka. Cover, and allow to stand at room temperature for 10 days, or until the zest is pale and the vodka has turned a deep yellow color.
Strain the liquid into a large glass bowl, leaving the zest in the strainer.
In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil with the sugar – stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the zest in the strainer into a heatproof bowl. Discard the zest; allow the liquid to cool.
Add the cooled syrup to the vodka, forming the liqueur. Pour this mixture into bottles with tight-fitting lids, and allow to stand for 5 days. Store in the freezer.
Tip from our listener Patsy: [This is a faster method, and easier, too!}
Grate washed lemons to make 2 tablespoons, zest (about 4 lemons)
[Note: Patsy uses a rasp-type, microplane zester & says it takes
about two minutes to do this]
2 cups, sugar
1 bottle (750 ml), vodka
12 tablespoons, lemon juice
Combine grated peel, sugar & vodka in a pan & heat, stirring often until mixture
reaches 125-130 degrees (Use an instant read thermometer). Allow to cool. When cool, add the juice to the mixture & pour into bottles.
Allow to rest in a cool dark place for 1 week, then pour through a strainer lined with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth into a bowl. Finally return the liqueur to clean bottles. Store in freezer.
From our listener Jonathan: Use Meyer lemon zest and add a vanilla bean!