— Kevin Donovan, Salute! Food, Wine and Travel in Southern Italy.
Italian food features regularly on our table and we team it with the occasional glass of icy Limoncello as an apéritif. The first time I tasted limoncello was many years ago during a visit to Tasting Australia in Adelaide, when I was fortunate enough to meet Libero de Luco, the maker of Ambra limoncello. Libero's hand-zested Ambra range includes lemon, strawberry, orange and chocolate! There are some lovely recipes on the Ambra site, so make sure you dip in.
Food history tells us that fruit farmers in villages in the Amalfi region were establishing large scale lemon groves as early as the 7th century. Through experimentation with different species, they succeeded in growing a special variety of lemon, Sfusato Amalfitano, or Amalfi Coast Lemons, recognised as Italy's best variety.
I've had a yearning to make limoncello for years, perhaps since hearing chef Joanne Weir talk about 'gathering a bunch of lemons and making it' when she visited Australia (late 1990s) to teach at the cooking school that I co-owned at the time. So, this desire to experiment with limoncello has been brewing for some time, but here it is, Limoncello a la Lizzy. My receipt is adapted from one by Ursula Ferrigno in Bringing Italy Home (Octopus 2001). On our first tasting, Peter and I agreed that the results taste squisito! The limoncello is now tucked away in a cool dark part of the larder for one more week.
Please tell me about your experiences with limoncello. Have you been to the Amalfi Coast? Oh, I am *envious* and cannot wait to hear about your adventures.
8 unwaxed lemons, preferably thick skinned, if available**
1 x 700ml bottle of vodka
225g caster sugar
450mls pure bottled water*
Soak the lemons for 30 minutes in a bowl of water, then give them a scrub with a vegetable brush. Pat them dry with paper towelling. Using a good vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of rind away from the lemons, taking care to leave behind the bitter white pith.
Place the lemon rind and the vodka into a wide-necked preserving jar that has been sterilised. Seal and store in a cool, dark place for about a four weeks, or longer if possible. Give the bottle a gentle shake on a daily basis. You will notice the colour of the liquid and the lemon rind changing with time. The rind seems to lighten in colour, while the liquid becomes a deep golden yellow.
In the final stages, combine the caster sugar and pure bottled water* in a saucepan and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pop a lid onto the saucepan and allow the sugar syrup to cool. Once cold, add the syrup to the jar of lemon rind and vodka, stir well to incorporate the syrup. Strain the liquor into a large jug, pressing out as much liquid from the rind as possible, and carefully pour it into sterilised bottles. Seal and store in a cool, dark place for a week. Ensure the limoncello is icy cold before serving (in fact, pop it into the freezer). Cin cin!
*Pure bottled water is available in supermarkets and specialty stores. I used Nobles pureau pure water, which is said to have 'a chemical-free multi-stage process that ensures that it is free from contaminants such as chlorine, salt, fluoride and heavy metals'.
**I couldn't find thick skinned lemons at the time of writing, however these lemons have given a lovely flavoured liquor.