by Scott Stavrou
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 4.3
As Fresh, Sweet (and Bitter) as Love Itself
In Southern Italy’s Campania region, people don’t rush around in the blazing heat of summer afternoons. They’ve learned better than to battle Mother Nature: Italians give in to the Goddess. If you can’t win the fight, you might as well enjoy yourself. Italians like to — nay, expect to — linger a bit longer over their meal, flirt a bit more, perhaps ponder life and relax; to punctuate their afternoon repast with some liquid, life-affirming pleasure. Rest assured, as you gulp down your last bite of burger or Chinese chicken salad to make it back to work by one o’clock, that somewhere on Italy’s Amalfi Coast a young man and woman are falling in love as they finish their linguine di mare. And when they’re done eating, they won’t look at their watches, they won’t rush back to the office to check their email or to execute another leveraged buyout. They’ll linger in each other’s arms and savor a serving of ice-cold, incandescently yellow Limoncello.
Limoncello is a lemon liqueur. And it’s delicious. But it’s not a quiet, contemplative drink to savor on a solitary evening at home. Limoncello’s flavor is big and bold and bright — as brash and provocative as a scantily clad Elizabeth Hurley bursting from a pool. It’s like swallowing tart sunshine; it carries with it the flavors of the fresh outdoors and the Southern Italian lemons known worldwide for their potency. It’s a taste that demands to be shared with someone special, particularly since its simultaneous sweet-and-sour flavors will leave your kisser puckered up.
The tradition of distilling this lemon liqueur goes back centuries in the area where the Sorrento Valley and the coast are sprinkled liberally with lemon trees. Many families continue to make their own private batches at home with old family recipes.
The Italians almost always drink their chilled Limoncello neat, out of a little cordial glass. But its taste is so pure and strong, with such a potent infusion of lemon sweet-tartness, that many Americans find it has too much bite for their delicate and often uninspired taste buds. If you don’t like to pucker, don’t fret; the elixir is remarkably versatile. It comes to life with sparkling water and can turn an ordinary sparkling wine into something ethereal. It’s a unique and remarkably refreshing addition to any bar and will enliven your cocktail canon. Substitute Limoncello for Triple Sec’s orange flavor in almost any drink for a zesty difference that even the dullest of palates is likely to note (and appreciate).
r e c i p e
To be the envy of your friends and make a reasonable facsimile of Limoncello, all you need is some patience (it takes 80 days to become thoroughly infused) and the following:
15 thick-skinned lemons
2 bottles (750 ml each) of good, potent vodka (the higher proofs impart less flavor and ensure that your mixture won’t fully freeze)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
- Remove the lemon rind with a vegetable peeler, then remove all white pith on the back of the peel by scraping with a knife. Place in a large, sealed jar. Add one bottle of vodka and stir (or shake, as per your James Bond preference). Store the vodka in a dark cabinet (preferably not your top desk drawer at work) for 40 days at room temperature.
- Post-hibernation, remove the mixture and boil the sugar and water (simple syrup) together for five minutes. Cool to room temperature and add it to the lemon-vodka mixture, along with the second bottle of vodka; mix well. Cover and store 40 more days.
- After day 80, remove your Limoncello from the cabinet, strain it and discard the lemon peel. Pour into clean bottles, chill in the freezer (it won’t freeze) and invite friends over. Remove from the freezer, pour into chilled glasses, enjoy and repeat.