A recipe from the Amalfi coast - Limoncello is an Italian favorite liqueur. It is best when placed in the freezer at least 24 hours prior to 'sipping' it. You can buy it in your better imported liquor stores... but you will get more gratification when making your own!
After a long coastal trip from Tuscany via Enzio, Naples, Sorrento to finally Positano.. we stopped for some dinner at a small family run restaurant.. Antonio's. Our dinner was absolutely delicious and conversation with the owner refreshing. As we were about to say our goodbye's Antonio asked us to stay a bit longer and disappeared into the restaurant kitchen. When he reappeared he was carrying a very chilled bottle of homemade limoncello, made from his courtyard garden lemon trees. I was so thrilled and told him that we have also been making our own limoncello at home. This seemed to please him even moreso than our generous tip! :) He shared his tips with me and I with him. Antonio gave me a bottle of his limoncello to ' bring home'.. and I lugged that bottle all over Italy for the next month with me! It was great fun comparing notes, and a great first night spent on the Amalfi coast. I still use this same decanter when I make my limoncello and just smile to myself thinking back on that wonderful meeting. Salute Antonio!
We were amazed by all the lemon and orange trees all around Sorrento until we remembered that Sorrento claims to be the birthplace of this very popular liqueur.. but then again Positano, Capri and Amalfi natives make this same claim :)
1 bottle (liter) of pure grain alcohol (Everclear 190-proof) or good 100-proof Vodka
15 -18 medium to large lemons - the ones that are not uniform in shape
2 nice size vanilla beans split down the middle and cut up
5 cups of water
4 cups sugar
Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and pat the lemons dry. Using a sharp potato peeler, take all the lemon rinds off of the lemons so there is no white pith on the peel. Now split your vanilla beans down the middle and cut up. Good vanilla beans are sometimes hard to find.. (the ones you find in your supermarket are hard and old)... if you think you will be making several batches for gifts.. order a dozen fresh beans. They will keep well, wrapped in Saran and then a small canning jar. I found a place on line that has organic vanilla beans at good prices and ships immediately...Bonjour Gourmet.
Place the rind-peelings in a large glass jar with the vanilla beans, and alcohol. Let sit for four weeks.. Give the jar a shake every few days so the oils release from the lemons and mix with the alcohol.. this will turn a bright yellow over time. You will know when it is ready by testing the lemon peels.. they become very crispy and will snap easily when you bend them.
When your lemon peel infusion is ready, strain the the peels from alcohol through cheesecloth, three times to remove any sediment.
Measure how many cups of finished 'base' you have.. so you will know how much syrup to make.
Making the syrup
For every cup of base.. you will use one cup of finished syrup.
In a large saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar; 1 cup sugar to 1/2 cup water... stir constantly, letting it simmer for 15 minutes. Be sure to always make sure the sugar is dissolved. Nobody likes grainy limoncello :) Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Mix the limoncello base with the syrup well.. and bottle.
You could drink it right away, but we always serve it right from the freezer, so be sure to always have one bottle chilling for company.The rest you can store in a cupboard... and letting it sit for a few months will improve the taste, making it even smoother.
Note: Limoncello is strong, please use caution! The first sip will warm you down to your toes.. the second sip is very smooth.. the third you will feel a bit fuzzy and not even taste the alcohol in it.. only the deliicous lemon! If you do a few shots, let me just say.. you will be the life of the party! Salute!
Limoncello is wonderful in a lemon squares recipe, Limoncello lemon bread, or drizzled over ice cream, I really love it in my summer squash and onion dish.. and cheesecake.. wow!!