“Mix lemon zest, sugar and alcohol, add time and patience. Enjoy. — by Murray Bancroft”
AS HOME-BOUND EPICURES continue their quest for all things homemade (think cured biodynamic heritage pork cheek) or the next big drink, Limoncello seems to have it all—history and authenticity with working class roots, praise from chefs from Batali to Oliver and, best of all, a high percentage of alcohol. The lemon liqueur secured its celeb status when Danny DeVito showed up drunk for a taping of The View, blaming the “last seven Limoncellos” he consumed following a boozy lunch with pal George Clooney.
Thought to have originated somewhere in the Amalfi Coast region of Italy in the early 20th century, Limoncello has been getting some ice time in fashionable restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic as ingredient, cocktail and digestivo (although hopefully not all in one sitting). The do-it-yourself version allows you to adjust the sweetness level to suit your palate (I opt for less sweet—just enough to cut some of the sting). Warning: Patience is paramount here. The lemon zest must infuse for two months. Start now for late summer or fall sipping.
• 15-20 organic lemons
• 2 750 ml bottles vodka
• 1 cup simple syrup (add 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water and boil 5-10 minutes until slight thickening occurs, let cool)
Start by washing and drying the lemons. Then, using a sharp knife, shave thin slices of lemon zest, trying not to get the white pith as well. If you do, cut again to remove white pith or it will impart a bitter flavour. Add to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid (I use large-format olive jars. You may need to ask your favourite chef or bartender to keep one for you) and top with vodka. The lemon zest should be completely submerged in vodka. Put on lid and store in cool dark place for two months.
After two months, strain, discard lemon peels and put liquid back in glass jar. Mix in your simple syrup. Add more or less to taste. Mix well, cover with lid and store in cool place again for 2-4 weeks at which point you can put into bottles and store in the freezer.
Ready in two to three months, you’d best get this project on the go. Here are three ways to admire your own handiwork, before, during and after a meal with friends.
Before: Limoncello Fizz
• 2 oz Limoncello
• Half a lime, juiced
• 1 Tbsp simple syrup
• Soda water
In a cocktail shaker or large glass, shake Limoncello, lime juice and simple syrup over ice. Strain liquid into another glass and top with soda water.
Even harder than the other leading brand, this lemonade packs a punch. Try setting your friends up for your next bocce ball tourney with a few of these refreshments. In fact, make those doubles and maybe you’ll win. Try a soda siphon with reusable CO2 cartridges and save valuable space in your recycling bin. Serve some citrus-coated pistachios (available at your closest Persian market) and your friends may never leave.
During: Prosecco Cocktail
• 1 oz Limoncello
• 2 oz blood orange juice (or other orange juice)
Mix Limoncello with orange juice and top with prosecco. This refreshing change from a mimosa or bellini can be served up as a cocktail or with a first course of crostini with Dungeness crab, lemon, mint and chili.
After: Straight Up and Chilled
When it’s time to cap off that perfect dinner or, ahem, lunch if you’re lucky, reach for a couple of chilled shot glasses and a frosty bottle of Limoncello and kick-it old school straight up as a digestivo (that’s Italian for “medicinal purposes only”).
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