I’ve written before about the lovely Meyer lemon tree in our back yard in Santa Barbara. Small, but prolific, it keeps us supplied with more lemons than we can possibly use. This summer, it positively outdid itself, leaving us awash in fragrant fruit and wondering what to do with them all. An article in the local paper about hand-crafted aperitivos and digestivos gave us an idea.
When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello!
The best limoncello in the world comes from the Amalfi Coast of Italy, made traditionally from lemons grown on the volcanic slopes of Vesuvius. In restaurants throughout the region, a complimentary glass of limoncello follows every meal, in the belief that it will act as a digestivo and improve the overall eating experience. Bad limoncello tastes like Janitor-in-a-Drum Liqueur, but the good stuff, served syrupy and cold, is a delight.
I found a recipe online and, straightaway, ordered a large (2 1/2 gallon) glass container with a screw top lid. As soon as it arrived, I plucked about 40 lemons from our tree, procured 4 fifths of vodka, readied my vegetable peeler, and set to work.
The most important step in making good limoncello–what the Italians will freely tell you separates the rot gut from the sublime–is to take great care in peeling the lemons, getting just the zest and taking the time to scrape off any bit of white pith that might be clinging to the zest. Even a small amount of pith can impart a bitterness to the final liqueur (masked usually by adding much more sugar) and the extra time it takes to check each sliver of peel for pith and scrape it away pays great dividends in the final product.
Here’s how to do it:
Limoncello di Villa Eades
15 to 20 fresh lemons, zest only
2 fifths (750 ml) vodka or PGA
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
Step 1: Zest the Lemons
Wash the lemons well. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove slivers of just the zest. Check the backs of the slivers for pith and scrape away every minute bit of it with the blade of a small paring knife.
(I juice the naked lemons and mix with water and sucralose or stevia to make low-carb lemonade.)
Step 2: Make an alcohol infusion
Put the slivers of zest into a large, glass container with a tightly-sealing lid.
(I found a large glass screw-top container online that will let me make a double batch at once. Old-fashioned, glass, screw-top, gallon, sun tea jars would work well, too, but the new ones on the market all seem to be made of plastic, which I’d prefer not to use.)
Add the vodka, swirl the contents, cover tightly, and put into a cool, dry place for 2 weeks to 1 month to extract the lemon oils and allow them time to infuse the alcohol.
Step 4: Make a simple syrup
In a saucepan large enough to hold it all, add the sugar to the water and stir to combine. Heat the mixture over a low flame, stirring constantly, until all the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Set aside.
(Yes, I use real sugar, because it is a part of what ensures inhibition of the growth of unfriendly microbes. And besides, you aren’t supposed to drink a water tumbler of it, just a cordial glass. It works out to about 8 – 10 grams of carb per ounce of liqueur, which is lot, but not so so terrible for an occasional treat.)
Step 5: Sweeten the alcohol
Strain the peels from the infusion, by pouring the infusion through a fine meshed sieve into a separate container. Return the infusion to the large jar and add the simple syrup. Swirl to combine. Cover tightly and return to the cool, dry area to age for about 1 or 2 months.
Step 6: Bottle the limoncello
Use a funnel to transfer the limoncello into ultra clean, dry, small bottles with tight stoppers or screw tops. I found some great ones in 250 ml and 500 ml sizes online. I also dipped the stoppered bottle ends in wine bottle sealing wax to create an even better seal.
Step 7: Label your treasure and put away in a cool place. Great for giving as a hostess gift or birthday gift or any-occasion gift. Be sure to put one bottle into your own freezer to have at the ready for improving digestion after a great low-carb meal!