All images © Valery Rizzo
August always makes me feel as though I should be in Italy. The hot sun forces you to slow down and enjoy the time with friends and family preferably with a nice long meal outdoors. This year, since I could not be in Italy I decided why not bring Italy to Brooklyn by asking my cousin Amalia for her Limoncello recipe and having my sister come over and make some Limoncello with me. For those of you that are not familiar, Limoncello is a traditional lemon liqueur, served chilled and usually as an after dinner drink, in the summer. The best Limoncello is found and made in Southern Italy, particularly around the Amalfi Coast, where the lemons are the size of small footballs.
My family is also from the same region of Campania and I always remember them having homemade liqueurs in their refrigerator, when I went to visit. Sometimes relatives would bring me homemade Limoncello to take back home with me, which was the best kind because it was made with love and given to you in reused uniquely shaped bottles. One year my cousin Annastella’s grandmother Stella tried to give me a bag of no joking, thirty lemons from the lemon tress in her garden to bring back to the US in my suitcase. I managed to get that down to ten, not having the heart to tell her I was not allowed to smuggle fruit out of the country.
A few weeks ago my sister Rossana came over with my niece Siena and while the two of us prepared the Limoncello, Siena ran around my vegetable garden. We joked about starting our own artisan Limoncello business in Brooklyn and calling it Sorelle Limoncello, sorelle means sister in Italian. It’s not hard to make but everyone has their own variations in the alcohol used, the amount of lemons, the sugar and water combination and the amount of time that you let it steep. You can even add a few lemon leaves to the infusion, if you are lucky enough to live somewhere that grows lemons locally.
Limoncello di Brooklyn
The following is the recipe, although I feel as though Limoncello is one of those recipes you have to make a few times while trying different things until you master it. This is my version of a combination of my cousin Amalia’s recipe, a Giada De Laurentis recipe, a suggestion of leaves from Amalia’s friend Donatella who owns a beautiful agriturismo in Italy that I visited and a Brooklyn addition of organic lemons from The Park Slope Food Coop.
Traditionally Limoncello is made with 180 proof whole-grain alcohol, but it is not easy to find. Brooklynites you may have to go to Jersey for this. I used instead 80 proof vodka (which Giada uses) which you may find you like better, but if you want that stronger kick that Limoncello ususally has then make it with the same amount of pure grain-alcohol (which is more than double the proof of vodka).
11 organic lemons (thicker skinned, oval shaped lemons work best)
2 lemon leaves (optional) (The Coop tried their best to get them for me but due to Asian Citrus Psyiild their supplier was unable to ship out lemons with stem and leaves)
1 liter bottle of 80 proof vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Wash lemons and using a vegetable peeler remove the peel from the lemons into long strips vertically from top to bottom. (Reserve lemons for another use). You want just the lemon peel and not the pith which is the white part of the lemon.
Place the lemon peels and optional 2 lemon leaves in a 2 quart air-tight jar. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover the jar and let steep or infuse for 15 days at room temperature. (some recipes steep anywhere from 4 days to 40 days or more)
After 15 days, in a large saucepan, stir the water and sugar together over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 min. Cool completely. Pour the cooled sugar syrup into the jar over the vodka and peel mixture and stir together. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.
The next day strain the Limoncello through a mesh strainer into another 2 quart jar and discard the peels. Using a funnel transfer the Limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to one month. Makes 2 bottles.
Before serving chill in the freezer and serve in liqueur glasses.