Friday, December 11, 2009
Many years ago, when I was in Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast, a friend invited me to meet Concetta. "She's the best cook in town." she said, “She’s eighty years old and has lived in this little pocket of paradise all her life.” My friend told me that Concetta's only trip away from Sorrento was to Naples ONCE! "That was enough!" Concetta said.
The day we visited Concetta, it was a very hot, humid Amalfi-kind of summer day, when only Mediterranean breezes bring relief. We sat on her terrace and she brought out miniature martini glasses, all frosty and beaded with cold. From the freezer, she also brought a bottle of lemon yellow liqueur and poured it into our ice cold glasses. One sip of limoncello led to another. I’ll never forget that afternoon.
Limoncello has gotten to be a popular digestif made along the Amalfi Coast and on the islands of Ischia and Capri. It is pronounced lee-moan-chello, the last part like the musical instrument. When I first heard the word, I thought Concetta was saying lemon jello? That’s how much I knew about it that many years ago.
Getting the recipe from her was another story. When I asked Concetta, you would have thought I was asking for her first-born child. But she liked me so I knew I had a chance. Much later in the afternoon, Concetta came from the kitchen with a small piece of white paper. She held tight to the recipe as she handed it to me and I tugged from the other side. All the time we were smiling, and thank God, I finally won the tug o’ war. I was holding the recipe!
Here I am in Los Angeles this week, a long way from the Amalfi Coast, cooking for my close friend, Charlotte, as she recovers from surgery. I noticed that her lemon trees were absolutely loaded with thick-skinned lemons. I thought, “Great, Christmas gifts! Limoncello for everyone!”
The first step is to gather a bunch of lemons. OK, I’ve done that. Now what? Let me get out my recipe….
Limoncello can be used as an aperitif mixed with sparkling wine, Champagne or mineral water, garnished with a twist of lemon peel. Or use it to flavor homemade lemon granita, sorbet or ice cream. During the summer, I like to toss limoncello with blueberries and peaches for shortcake. Or just sip it ice cold from the freezer as a digestif.
30 thick skinned lemons, Eureka, Lisbon or Citron
2 bottles 100 proof Everclear or vodka (750 ml per bottle)
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler. Remove all white pith from the back of the peel and discard. Place the lemon peel in a large jar with one bottle Everclear. Stir. Cover and place in a dark place for 7 days.
After7 days, bring the sugar and water to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool the mixture cool 10 minutes. Add the sugar syrup and the remaining 1 bottle Everclear to the jar containing the lemon peel and Everclear. Mix well, cover and place in a dark place for 7 days.
After 7 days, strain and store it one bottle at a time in freezer until ready to use.
Makes approximately 3 quarts