The last few weeks I’ve seen a few glimpses of spring: a few hours of sunny sky, some higher temperatures, multiple bunny sightings and the birds have started their early morning chirping. The refreshing spring air though, is the best part. It brightens up my day, refreshes me and reminds me that a fresh start is around the corner. That sprightly feeling is something I also get from lemons…and limoncello!
Of late, I love adding lemon juice and lemon zest to recipes, whether in my cookies, on fish dishes, in pesto, wherever I can fit it in. Not only is lemon really good for you as it helps with digestion, balances your pH, etc., it also puts a spring feeling into your dishes. That may also be why limoncello is now my drink of choice. Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, offers an intense and vivid lemon flavour.
Making this drink is relatively new to my family, so I’ll file it under a “new tradition” as it now a regular feature at get-togethers. But limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.
Traditionally, it’s served as an after-dinner digestivo but you can also use it as an ingredient in cocktails or desserts and even over ice cream.
7 good quality lemons
1 litre of 90 proof alcohol (That’s pure grain alcohol. You might need to find a speciality store to get this depending on where you live)
900 grams sugar
2 litre of water
Make sure the lemons you select have good looking peels, without marks or brown spots. Wash the lemons well.
Using a zester or fine grater, remove the lemon peel from the lemons. Be careful to avoid the white area of the peel just below the surface, as it can make the drink bitter.
Steep the lemon peel in the 90-proof alcohol for 10-12 days. I know some people who will leave it in as little as 3 days and some that will leave it in as long as 14 days. In my experience, 10 days is just about right. The lemon flavour is intense but hasn’t gotten bitter or over-tart from staying in too long.
The colour of the lemon peel takes to the liquor right away and it’s gorgeous.
After 10 days prepare the second part of the limoncello mix: the simple syrup. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil and add in the sugar. Bring it back up to a boil and continue to boil until the sugar is dissolved. Let this sugar water cool completely.
Meanwhile, you can strain the lemon peel from the alcohol. Pour the mixture first into a strainer, placed over a bowl, to remove the largest pieces of peel. Then run the limoncello through coffee filters, three to four times, to remove the finer particles of the lemon peel.
Straining the liqueur will make your limoncello clear and avoid any sediment on the bottom of your drink. You can also strain your water/sugar mixture one or twice when cool to ensure a clear final product. Any coffee filters will do, but the flat bottom ones (that I wasn’t able to find) are the best as they can nestle into a strainer well. They are just easier to use.
Once both your liquids are at room temperature and strained, mix the two together. Your limoncello is complete! Take a swig and make sure it’s just what you wanted! If you want a stronger limoncello, you can cut the water/sugar mixture in half. Adding more water/sugar will make your limoncello weaker.
Store your limoncello in a cool place or fridge. It is best served right out of the freezer though and the combination of the temperature and clean lemon flavour is refreshing any time of the year. Serve it after dinner, over ice cream or use it as an ingredient in desserts – it will make an impact!