2019: L… A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Limoncello
I’m back for “year 4” of the A to Z… April Challenge!
My first year of this challenge had me racking my brain for a writing topic… especially as I didn’t quite understand the process. But finally I came up with 2016: Southern Foods and Memories. They said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew. 2017: Conversations with Mama was a somewhat easy one for me as I’d journaled our conversations for years so I researched some of my favorite topics to write on. 2018: All About Nancy Drew has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another to equal it. It literally had me researching every day for over six months… researching, reading and perfecting every post. I was totally consumed with Nancy Drew for months… and still am! I didn’t want to “not” participate this year, but I was drawing a blank. Finally, mid February, I came up with writing on my husband’s Italian family foods and memories. I did my Southern foods the first year, so it was time to finally give his family their due! I’m also participating in the yearly 52 Ancestors 52 Stories this year… I am really feeling over-extended this month. April is a tough month for me, as we usually are traveling to my mother’s and my son in Florida… but somehow I’ll manage!
I think I can safely say that before marrying into an Italian family, I had never eaten any of the foods I’m blogging on this month… such an underprivileged child I was! Growing up in the South where we ate fried chicken, okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed style corn and southern biscuits! Oh My…!
For anyone who doesn’t know what Limoncello is – it’s an Italian liquor enjoyed with family and friends after a meal. Everyone in Italy makes their own – using the huge fragrant lemons often grown just outside their doors.
I made my first batch in 2005 and after making it the first time, my first thoughts were, “I’ll never make this again.” All the zesting really got me and I wondered why would anyone want to do all this work… when they could just “buy a bottle.” But, after tasting my homemade brew vs. bought, I could see why you’d make the effort of making your own!
15 large lemons (5lbs)
(Choose lemons with a thick, waxy skin – they seem to have the best lemon oil content.)
2 – 750ml bottles – 100-proof vodka (I used 1 Ltr.)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
Wash lemons with a vegetable brush under hot water to remove residue of pesticides and wax… pat lemons dry. Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler, avoiding the bitter white pith as much as possible. If there is any pith on a slice, scrape it off with a knife or spoon. An extremely sharp vegetable peeler works, or a fine microplane grater, or a zester (which I prefered) to remove the thin layer of lemon peel. The zest comes off in strings rather than strips, so more surface is exposed. If you use a fine grater such as a micro-plane, avoid the temptation to shave off every last bit of colored peel, because you’re likely to end up taking some pith along with it. In other words, it’s best to give up on the colored parts of the peel that are in the “valleys” on the surface of the lemon.
Step One: In a large glass jar (1-gallon or larger), add one bottle of vodka and the lemon zest – either as you zest or all together when you’re finished. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least (10) days, or up to (40) days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. My first original batch sat for almost a year and I don’t think it tasted any different than my second batch.
There is no need to stir – all you have to do is wait!
As the Limoncello sits, the vodka will slowly take on the flavor and the rich yellow color of the lemon zest. Once the zest has turned white, all the lemon oil has been released from the zest and infused into the vodka; you should see that the zest has lost its color by the time you add the second bottle of vodka and sugar-water mix.
Step Two: In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool to room temperature before adding to the Limoncello mixture from Step One; adding it warm will change the taste. Add the second bottle of vodka and allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.
Step Three: After the rest period, strain through cheesecloth two to three times before bottling – discard the lemon zest. Keep in freezer until serving. Everyone keeps their Limoncello in the freezer so it’s icy cold when serving.
It wasn’t long after before I decided to make Limoncello again… and after finding my original recipe, I went in search of fragrant smelling lemons… finding perfect ones at Costco – in a 5lb bag; Zesting went much faster this time… I was finished in about 45 minutes… yay! It seemed to have gone much quicker this time. Now I had another dilemma – what to do with fifteen “naked” lemons? I turned to the Internet and quickly found suggestions of lemonade, lemon sorbet and lemon pie – or just freeze the juice for a future recipe. Now I had to juice all my zest-less lemons – and that turned out to be quite a chore… harder on my hands than the actual zesting.
Before making my second batch, I read several comments online… on the making of Limoncello. Many comments were – “it only takes 10 days to infuse the zest and vodka… the longer it steeps together, the better the taste… using a premium vodka results in a better taste vs. a cheap vodka… and use only pure grain 100% alcohol.”
I chose to use a 100% proof vodka vs. pure grain alcohol, but I didn’t use the most expensive vodka. I did find the pure grain alcohol in the store, but the clerk mentioned that many people didn’t actually use it. At first I didn’t remember which brand of vodka I used for my first batch, but I ended up on the second run with the very same one – Majorska 100-proof vodka. It worked very well the first time around, so I knew it would work out for this batch also.
After about 40 days of infusing, I added the sugar syrup mixture and the second bottle of vodka. I re-covered the jar and placed it again in a dark cool place to finish the process. I left it for about 30 days this time, before the final process of straining the liquid through cheesecloth to remove all the zest; you want the end result to be a nice and clear bottle of Limoncello.
All I had to do now was bottle it – my Christmas presents were almost ready!
Gather your lemons and Vodka… and get busy!
I look forward to hearing your Limoncello stories!
Continue reading more of the A to Z… Cooking Famiglia Italian Foods and Memories
© 2019, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved