Have you ever been to Italy? Specifically, have you ever been to Capri or the Amalfi coast? If you have, you probably remember the lemons and you've probably experienced limoncello, a luscious lemon liqueur. The Italians typically serve it after dinner as a digestive or with flaky Italian pastries or rich desserts. I am a big fan of limoncello. Not only does it remind me of a wonderful summer in Italy a lot of years ago, it is a fast and easy ingredient for cocktails and even for a super quick dessert. Pour chilled limoncello over pound cake and berries, over vanilla ice cream, or add it to your store bought lemonade or iced tea. Makes a great addition to an Arnold Palmer!
I keep a bottle in the freezer for late afternoon summer sipping.... takes me right back to Italy. When I first learned to make limoncello, you could not find it in the stores. Nowadays, you can find it readily but it is so much more fun to make your own. Make a double batch and give it as a gift! It's a wonderful summer tradition. I got this recipe from an Italian friend a few years ago and tweaked it until I got it just right. You do not have to use the vanilla bean; that's my own spin.
A couple of important notes: you have to take care to get rid of the white pith of the lemon rind. It becomes bitter in the distilling process. Also, you can use grain alcohol instead of vodka. I've made it both ways and simply prefer the vodka version but there is not a disenable difference in taste or cost. Select thick skinned lemons that are fully yellow with no green or soft spots on the exterior. Typically, I prefer lemons with a thinner skin when juicing, but the thicker, dense peel is better for zesting.
20 fresh lemons
2 750ml bottles vodka (use 100 proof, if possible)
4 cups granulated sugar
5 cups water
2 vanilla beans- split with seeds removed (optional but yummy)
Wash the lemons well. Use a brush to remove any wax or residue on the peel. Pat dry. Peel the lemons using a vegetable peeler. Use only the outer part of the lemon rind. Try not to remove the white pith, If you do, take a sharp pairing knife and remove as much of it as possible; discard. Reserve the lemons for another use like lemon marmalade or fresh lemonade that you can freeze for a few weeks, if necessary.
Put the lemon peel into a large glass container, like a Mason jar, a large pickle jar, or a pitcher with a tight-fitting lid. Add the vodka or grain alcohol. If you are adding the vanilla bean, add it now. Split the bean and using the back of your knife, remove the seeds by scraping the bean. Add to the jar and secure the lid tightly. Allow to sit undisturbed at room temperature in a dark place for ten days. Do not disturb the mixture or stir. Just wait patiently as the vodka soaks up the yummy lemon flavor.
On the 11th day, make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar in a pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar completely dissolves. Allow to cool completely.
Pour the simple syrup over the lemon peel/vodka mixture. Cover and allow to stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours but the preference would be to let it stand for at least another 10 but no longer than 20 days; the longer you allow it to stand, the better the flavor will be.
Strain the liquid to remove the peel and the vanilla bean, if you used it. Pour the liqueur into pretty bottles with a stopper or tight-fitting lid. Seal tightly and refrigerate. If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, line colander with a coffee filter as a quick substitute.
Chill well before serving. The limoncello should be very cold. You may even store them in the freezer to extend the prime flavor.
Serve very cold; in tall shot glasses or cordial glasses.
And as they say in Italy... "No poem was ever written by a drinker of water." - From the great Roman poet Horace around 65 BC.