The saying goes “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” but when I discovered my new house came with its very own lemon tree, all I could think of was to make limoncello!
I have to admit I first heard of limoncello from an insufferable TV chef (who shall remain nameless) but like most things that he prattles on about, I simply dismissed it as yet another “pucker” marketing fad. It wasn’t until I visited Rome that I realised how wrong I was (about limoncello, not the TV chef). At our local pizzeria (in a slightly dodgy back alley off Via Cavour) I spied the liquor on the menu and I just knew I had to try it. Chilled to perfection, it was sweet, refreshing and satisfyingly potent, proving to be an excellent aperitif and the prefect foil to our cheesy pizza dinner. And so yet another culinary obsession was forged. Naturally we loaded our suitcases with bottles of this lemony delight but as my stash diminished locally, I began to look upon my laiden lemon tree with fresh eyes. Where once I simply saw the potential for lemonade, I now saw limoncello!
I won’t lie, my method for making limoncello is arduous and frankly should you have an insatiable craving for it, you would be better off just buying some from your local bottle-store. If, however, you find yourself with a glut of lemons and the patience to wait 3 months, then this is the recipe for you. Sometimes sweet perfection is worth waiting for.
2 x 750ml bottles of grain alcohol, vodka or cane
17 large unwaxed lemons, preferably organic
3 cups of white sugar
5 cups of water
First wash your lemons and them dry thoroughly. Using a micro-zester or Mircoplane, begin zesting your lemons over a sheet of tinfoil. Be very careful to avoid zesting past the lemon’s yellow skin and into the bitter white pith. The best technique is to lightly “skim” the surface of the lemon with the micro-zester. You can’t rush this part of the recipe, zesting all 17 lemons should take about half an hour.
Once you have zested all the lemons, tip the zest into a very clean jar with a screw-on lid. The jar must obviously be large enough to accommodate the 1.5 liters of alcohol you are about to add. Pour in the alcohol and cover the jar with some cling wrap, screw on the lid tightly.
Give the jar a gentle shake to agitate the lemon zest and the store jar in a cool, dark place. For the first week gently shake the jar every couple of days. Thereafter, and this is hardest part of the process, leave the jar alone and forget about it for 45 days.
Make a simple syrup by dissolving 3 cups of white sugar in 5 cups of water. Once the sugar was completely dissolved, allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, you will need to filter your limoncello mixture into a larger (clean) jar. The new jar must be large enough to accommodate both the limoncello and the syrup. For the filter, I used a conical sieve and some paper coffee filters. You will need to replace the paper filters quite often as they will get clogged with the lemon zest. Do not be tempted to squeeze out the zest residue that accumulates in the paper filters, as you risk contaminating the final product with the exact impurities you are trying to filter out. Personally, I filter the limoncello twice to make doubly sure I’ve removed all the zest – this may seem like overkill but when you have invested 45 days in the process thus far, what’s an extra 15 minutes!
Once you have completed the filtering process, add the syrup to the limoncello (in the larger jar). Seal with cling wrap and screw on the lid. Hide the jar away and wait another 45 days (I did warn you that this is an arduous process!). These final 45 days are vitally important as the limoncello is intensely sweet at the point of adding the syrup and it needs time to mellow and develop.
And that’s it. Once the final 45 days have passed, all you need to do is bottle up your homemade limoncello and enjoy. You’ll be surprised at how much limoncello you’ll end up with but the final product has a very long shelf-life.
Note: Remember to chill your limoncello before drinking it, you can even put in the freezer before pouring it into chilled shot glasses.
Suggested Use: Try adding a splash of limoncello to some freshly whipped cream. Great served with dark chocolate fondant or parfait.