I’ve been thinking about Limoncello recently for some reason. Especially one that I had in Sicily a few years ago, in a coffee shop round the corner from where I was staying. The young proprietor brought some over to accompany my morning coffee and croissant – saying he wanted to know what an English palate thought of his version. He wouldn’t tell me more so I sipped it gingerly, I had a boss who insisted in closing meals with Grappa which I really don’t like it, but this was delicious. Donato had added a simple syrup that was fortified with some local honey for a warm note. I told him it tasted like nectar so he immediately poured me another. Followed by another coffee and another croissant. Afterwards I had to go home for a nap. All this before 9.00am.
There have been some great looking lemons in the shops recently – and I wondered if I might have a bash at replicating my Ortigian experience. Couldn’t be that difficult. sofabrother wasn’t convinced – “why are you making that? It’s vile, no-one is going to drink it”. I assured him that my limoncello would be more like a lemon liquor, with notes of honey. He just raised his eyebrows.
A couple days later over perfectly home-made mojitos with my McG neighbours Rob and Natasha, I wondered if they would be interested a little competition. Brew up a batch of limoncello and be taste-tested over Xmas by family and local pals. “Yes,” I would be interested,” responded Robby – “and we can make it our own version, yes?”
Yes you may. Improvisation is encouraged – as long as it contains a tart citrus
camparigirl was sceptical. Her nonna had made limoncello throughout her childhood and she didn’t remember any weird off-piste behaviour like using whole-lemons or honey, especially not the ginger I was now considering adding. She offered up her nonna’s recipe: “everyone loved it”, she said hopefully; “and she didn’t make any substitutions”.
I did my research and abandoned the whole-lemon idea – apparently it only works if you are making lemonade and drinking it right away. Otherwise the pith makes the lemon bitter. Meantime I got started with the process, zesting the lemons, pouring the vodka over them and leaving them to macerate in the corner. The mix turned a great yellow pretty quickly, very sunny. Which made me doubt my idea about using honey in the syrup. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the colour of Donato’s brew – and I feared mine would be muddy brown. But the syrup tasted so great I decided to use it anyway – and the colour turned out more sunset than silt.
I also substituted lemon juice for half of the water in the syrup. Made for a big bang of flavour. The honey mellowed the lemon/vodka tang, maybe even a bit too much for purists. But I can see it being sipped after supper or added happily to cocktails. Serve mixed with soda water for a spiked lemonade. We had it after Xmas lunch, poured over a sharp lemon sorbet, icy deliciousness.
Nonna Cevenini’s recipe (with a honey and a little license)
- Wash and dry your lemons (mainly to get rid of any wax)
- Zest 8 big lemons and put the peel into a sealable glass jar
- Make sure there is no pith (the white under the skin) in the zest
- Pour over 750ml of grain alcohol (I used vodka) and let sit for 4 days at room temperature
- Make a simple syrup by combining 2 cups of water, 1.5 cups of lemon juice with either 3 cups of sugar or 3 cups of honey (not both!!) in a saucepan.
- Stir over a low heat the liquid becomes syrupy.
- Allow to cool completely.
- Boil the bottles and caps you will be using to store the brew. Allow to air dry.
- Strain the alcohol to remove the zest.
- Mix in the simple syrup
- Pour into the bottles, seal them, give them a shake and place into the freezer. Your masterpiece should keep pretty much indefinitely if chilled.
Buon Natale tutti.