After reading the The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, I fell in love with the idea of traveling to Italy. To Sestri Levante, to be exact. To visit mia famiglia. To bring back the recipes passed down for generations, just like Laura Schenone had done, there along the Italian Riviera. As it turned out, my sister, along with three of my cousins, were already planning this pilgrimage. In fact, for at least part of the trip, they planned to stay at the cousins’ resort in Riva Trigoso. My opportunity had arrived, even if indirectly! Please, I begged, bring me recipes from the old country. But, alas, those recipes remain a safely guarded Ligurian treasure.
On the other hand, however, their English speaking tour guide, Antonio, freely shared his family’s limoncello recipe. Success! Or maybe not. After doing a little research, it turns out the recipe he provided was strikingly similar to Giada De Laurentis’ version, which uses vodka and steeps for only four days. Nice try, Antonio, but this couldn’t be your Nonna’s recipe! Not to worry, though, we thoroughly appreciate the gesture.
That’s my sister with the now (in)famous Antonio.
Certainly no self-respecting nonna would use such short cuts. In fact, Italian grandmothers pride themselves in the labor of love that is cooking–bringing to life their heritage and family traditions via the kitchen. Besides, proper Limoncello, or Limoncino as Ligurians call it, takes time. And pure alcohol, or at least as close to it as you can get, as this is what extracts the essential oils from the peel. Its exact origins are unknown, and a few regions lay claim to its paternity, including the Sorrento Peninsula, the island of Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. This popular digestivo has been around since at least the late 19th century, but some feel its origins go back further.
You might be surprised to learn that the craft of small-batch, flavored liqueurs is relatively simple. All you need is alcohol, water, sugar, and the fruit (or other flavoring) of your choice. Oh, and of course, time and patience. If you start now, you’ll have a lovely gift to present to friends and family during the holidays.
A few weeks back, my cousin Mary Ann dropped off a large bag of lemons from her tree, and here’s how I began…
If you aren’t lucky enough to have homegrown lemons landing on your doorstep, stop by the local farmers’ market and pick up about a dozen. The lemons should be organic, not because it’s trendy, but because supermarket lemons may contain wax and pesticides on the skin. Since we’re only using the skin, this is very important. Give them a good scrub before you begin.
The lemons are simply gorgeous, which may compel you to take a few artistic snaps, like my honey did below. Can you see him in the picture?
How cute is that? Now, back to the recipe.
Carefully peel the lemons so that you have just the skin. The white pith will make the limoncello bitter, so scrape any remaining pith off the peel with a sharp knife.
Add the peels and the alcohol (I used Everclear 151) to a glass jar and seal tightly. Since I used a glass pitcher, the top was wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.
Let this steep for at least 45-50 days. At the end of this time, most of the color will have transferred from the peels to the alcohol. This is a good thing.
While you’re waiting, enjoy your vacation pictures.
See how time flies? Now that we’re 45 days into the future, let’s make the simple syrup.
Bring the water to a boil, then stir in the sugar until dissolved–about 10 minutes. See. Simple. Syrup. Let this cool completely.
Meanwhile, strain the alcohol/lemon mixture into another container. I used a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter–this is to get rid of the peels as well as any other debris that may be in there from the lemons.
What remains is a dazzling golden liquid.
Stir in the simple syrup, then pour into bottles for storage.
The final result should be exquisitely golden, slightly cloudy, and very fragrant. Some say at this point it should be stored another 10 days or so to mellow out. That’s up to you. We drank it that night after chilling, and it was truly fantastic. Limoncello tastes best when stored in the freezer.
- 10-12 organic lemons
- 1 (750-ml) bottle grain alcohol (such as Everclear)
- 3½ cups water
- 2½ cups sugar
- Wash lemons, and carefully peel in long strips. Scrape away any pith on the peels.
- Place the peels in a glass jar or pitcher, cover with the alcohol and seal closed. (I used plastic wrap since no lid was available.)
- Let this steep for 45-50 days.
- To make the simple syrup, bring the water to a boil in a large pan.
- Add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. This should take about 10 minutes. Cool completely.
- Strain the alcohol mixture into a clean bowl or pitcher. A mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter will suffice.
- Stir in simple syrup, and bottle for storage.
Special thanks to my sister, Diana, and my cousin, Michelle, for providing pictures of their Italy trip, as well as to my cousin Mary Ann for providing the lemons.
Next week, let’s make some kid-friendly pesto for a back-to-school #SundaySupper!
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