With the holidays in full swing, nothing seems more appropriate or more festive than some home brewed spirits. Limoncello, traditionally a warm weather after dinner sipper, kept popping up in my head. I thought it would be a nice escape from the blistering cold weather coming on. My first sip of limoncello is something I'll never forget and is why I got so curious with making my own. On a vacation through the Amalfi Coast one late summer many years ago, I found the teeniest mom and pop pizza shop where the locals had been pointing me towards while on my hunt for some authentic limoncello. My first sip of the liquid gold was glorious. It was crisp and slightly more puckery & tart than sweet. Little did I know how easy and quick it is to make. The ingredients are simple and few. The only effort is having enough patience to leave it alone. Some recipes call for a week steeping and some for up to 80 days. Truthfully though, as long as you have a high enough proof vodka or spirit, a week is all you need. Once you see the yellow color leave the rind and into the liquid, your limoncello is done. For a little extra subtle flavor I bashed up and tossed in a tablespoon of cardamom. You can also play with different flavors - for instance, I think doing a creamsicle spin would be delicious, subbing oranges for lemons and adding a few vanilla pods.
Here's my version that hopefully won't offend my Italian Calabrian ancestors too bad.
Just a few tips:
1. You want to use organic lemons.
2. I like to use a microplane for zesting but you can also remove the skins with a vegetable peeler.
3. Be sure to remove all the white pith, as it will make your limoncello too bitter.
6-8 organic lemons
1 bottle good vodka (Tito's works great)
2 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
*optional: 1 tablespoon fresh ground cardamom
1. Using a microplane or vegetable peeler, zest or peel the lemons, trimming away any of the white pith. Reserve the lemons for a later use. Place the lemon rind, vodka, and cardamom in a 2 quart wide mouth mason style jar, seal, and let it steep away from direct sunlight for 6 days or up to a month at room temp. The longer it sits, the more lemony your limoncello will be.
2. Stir the water and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar's dissolved. Cool and pour the syrup a little at a time into your lemon/vodka mixture until you reach your desired flavor. Cover and let it stand at room temp overnight. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer, and discard or save the rind for a later use. With a funnel, pour the limoncello into bottles and keep in the freezer.
A few hints:
Save the rind. It has a great preserved taste and a small pinch adds a lot of flavor to baked goods, jams or roast vegetables.
Your mixing options are endless:
For a simple spritzer, I like to add 1 part limoncello with 2 parts seltzer.
Or to get even fancier, try what I call "Amalfi style", which is equal parts limoncello and prosecco, add mint leaves and sectioned orange and lemon wedges.
I also love a Lemon Highlander, add 1 part scotch to 1/2 parts both limoncello and drambuie.
Have you ever tasted limoncello? And if so, what's your favorite way to drink it?