Nothing says Tuscan summer quite as much as a glass of limoncello. In restaurants in an around our village, it’s customary for the waiter to leave an ice-cold bottle, adorned with Swarovski crystals of condensation, on the table with your after-dinner coffee. If you’re lucky, the restaurant may serve home made limoncello, recognizable by its opaque colour, and normally much higher in alcohol content than commercially available brands.
No-one really know where or when limoncello was invented although the most famous brands, along with the most famous lemons, come from the south. It’s worth noting though that in Sorrento, in Campania, which is most famous for limoncello, it’s served in little porcelain cups which are made in Deruta in Umbria (as was my dish with the lemons in the photo). As with many things in Italy, it’s all a bit of a mash up. What’s clear is that locally here they’ve been making it here for more than 100 years.
Limoncello is surprisingly easy to make, although you have to be patient, since it takes about a month from start to finish. To make it the traditional way, you need 95% alcohol, which is not widely available outside Italy. In the UK it can be bought online in 50cl bottles. In some other countries you need to go to the pharmacy. Luckily, Vodka makes a good substitute. When made to the recipe below, the limoncello will be 38% alcohol. Vodka is about 40% and so you will need to adjust the amount of sugar syrup added in order to achieve the ideal range of 28–32% normal for limoncello.
Since I have a crop of about 40 lemons which have fallen off our trees in recent weeks, I decided it was about time to make this year’s stock at La Madera. It should be ready to celebrate my birthday next month and check back then for some limoncello based recipes.
It’s worth remembering that as you only need the skins of the lemons to make limoncello, you should co-ordinating making it with something which needs lemon juice. We made lemonade since it’s 32° C (90° F) outside. Summer has indeed come early. We may have to watch the sun go down and the fireflies come out with a glass this evening.
You can vary the recipe by using other citrus fruits such as oranges. Here’s a link to a younger me showing you how it’s done! Salute!
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10 medium sized lemons, untreated
1 litre (2 pints) pure alcohol, 95%
500g (4 cups) sugar
1 1/2 litres (3 pints) water
1. Wash and dry the lemons.
2. Using a potato peeler, remove the top layer of skin from the lemons, being careful to leave as much pith as possible on them. The pith has a tendency to give a bitter taste to the limoncello.
3. Put the peelings into a demijohn and then add the alcohol.
4. Place the demijohn in a cool, dark place and leave for one month. Agitate the demijohn regularly. At the end of the month, the alcohol will be a deep yellow colour but will remain clear.
5. Place the water in a large saucepan. Add the sugar, and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and make a syrup. Leave to cool completely.
6. Strain the alcohol to remove all the pieces of lemon peel. Dilute with the sugar syrup. Now the liquid will turn cloudy, which is normal.
7. Place the liquid into sterilised bottles and store in a dark place.
8. Place each bottle in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.