'In Sicily I came to relish the digestive Limoncello, taken at the end of a meal. It is made by steeping lemon peel in alcohol spirit for fifteen days and then blending with sugar syrup. My head rested peacefully on the pillow with the scent of lemons in my nostrils and a vision in my mind of citrus orchards glistening in the sun'.
— Kevin Donovan, Salute! Food, Wine and Travel in Southern Italy
Peter and I have both travelled overseas to different countries at different times, but neither of us has yet had the opportunity to visit Italy. When we first met, among the things we had in common was that we'd both planned to learn to speak Italian, as well as to travel to Italy some day. This adventure is on the bucket list now we've retired.
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. So exquisite.
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 wish they were available here!
I'd had a yearning to make limoncello for years, even since before hearing chef Joanne Weir talk about 'gathering a bunch of lemons and making it' when she visited my cooking school in Australia in the late 1990s. It was ones of those things that I had put off endlessly. The first time I made it, I used store-bought lemons. Since then, I have been using home grown lemons, which are flourishing in pots on my verandah.
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 resulting liquor was quite squisito!
8 unwaxed lemons, thick skinned, if available
1 x 700ml bottle of vodka
225g caster sugar
450mls pure bottled water*
Sterilise a wide necked preserving jar or bottle. Now soak the lemons for 30 minutes in a bowl of water, then give them a good scrub with a vegetable brush. Pat them dry with paper towelling. Then, 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 the sterilised jar or bottle. Seal it 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. But please wait, your limoncello is not ready yet.
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'.
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 month. Give the bottle a gentle shake on a daily basis.
After a month or so...
My latest batch of Limoncello has been made with home-grown lemons. I can barely wait to taste the difference.
Please tell me about your experiences with limoncello. Have you been to the Amalfi Coast? Oh please do tell, dear readers, I cannot wait to hear about your adventures.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.