My aunt has been making her own limoncello for quite some time. The recipe is a handwritten note that she keeps in a small, worn daytimer where she jots down all her favourites recipes. After dinner, on summery nights in Italy, we would sit on the porch, Zia would pull a bottle from the freezer and we would all have a drink. She made both clear and crema di limoncello with lemons grown in the family’s yard.
We would enjoy a chilled glass under the stars and she would recount how the limoncello was made. It’s a wonderful way of sharing and preserving food history and stories within families.
Most recipes are handed down from nonnas, mammas and zias on crinkled, well used paper or through conversations during a visit or by phone. It usually starts with “Prendere otto limoni, un litro di alcol, settecento grammi di zucchero…”
On a recent trip to Italy, Sean made his mark in the Ciotoli storybook when he encountered an oversized lemon. My uncle is quite proud of his lemon trees and has a number of varieties growing in pots. One evening he took us out to the front porch to admire a particular tree that had two very large lemons hanging from its branches. I mean, they were huge. He had been growing them for nearly a year.
Sean was in disbelief. In fact, Sean refused to believe they were real. So he reached out, touched one…and it fell off the tree. Well, as you can imagine, my uncle was not amused. We tried to convince him that the fruit was ripe and just waiting to be picked. Not sure if he bought that story but let me tell you, that was one tasty lemon.
Limoncello originates from the southern regions in Italy. Italians drink it chilled as an aperitivo (before dinner) or digestivo (after dinner) drink and is traditionally made with Sorrento lemons.
Years back, I made my own crema di limoncello using my zia’s recipe and with great success. While the taste was remarkable, it was the colour of the drink that captured my interest. A beautiful, delicate, pale yellow. It was stunning. So stunning, I refused to let anyone drink it. Every once in awhile I would take a bottle from its cozy nook in the freezer and admire that wonderful hue.
Everyone has their own recipe. On occasion while in Italy, one of the neighbours would invite us over and share his homemade concoctions. Not only did he make his limoncello with lemons, he also used oranges, mandarins and other citruses. Ah-mah-zing.
Making your own limoncello is easy. Here’s a few tips when making your own:
- Only 4 ingredients are required: lemons, alcohol, water and sugar. Ensure what you are using is of high quality.
- Use organic lemons. The lemon rinds are steeped in alcohol for a number of days. Regular lemons have been treated and often contain wax to make them shiny and pretty. Using organic lemons ensures that the citrus has not been treated with pesticides that have leached into the rind.
- When peeling the lemon, ensure that you only get the lovely yellow rind and not the pith, which is bitter.
- Don’t have alcohol? Substitute with vodka. In this recipe I use “alcool” which is 95% pure grain alcohol, extremely strong and is not sold in the LCBO. You can easily substitute with good quality vodka.
- The recipe for Crema di Limoncello uses vaniglia which can be purchased at La Stella on Erie Street. Alternately you can use a good quality vanilla.
- Limoncello is best served cold. Serve it in a chilled glass.
Zia Giuseppina’s Limoncello
8 organic lemons
1 litre pure grain alcohol (or vodka)
750 grams sugar
1 litre water
Peel the lemons. Place the rind in a bowl and pour alcohol overtop. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 days in a cool, dark spot. Steeping the rinds will release the oils and give the limoncello its beautiful flavour and colour.
Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the alcohol into a clean bowl, discarding the rind. Bring a pot of water to boil and add sugar, stirring until it dissolves making simple syrup. Once the syrup has completely cooled, add to the alcohol. Pour the limoncello into sterilized bottles, cap it and store in the freezer (as it is best served chilled). Wait a month before serving. Makes 2 one litre bottles.
Zia Giuseppina’s Crema di Limoncello
8 organic lemons
½ litre pure grain alcohol (or vodka)
800 grams sugar
1 litre milk
1 package of vaniglia or 2 tablespoons of good quality vanilla
Peel the lemons. Place the rind in a bowl and pour alcohol overtop. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 4 days in a cool, dark spot. Steeping the rinds will release the oils and give the limoncello its beautiful flavour and colour. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the alcohol into a clean bowl, discarding the rind.
Bring the milk to a boil and add sugar, stirring until it dissolves. About 3 minutes. When the milk has cooled, add the vaniglia. Add the milk to the lemon alcohol. Pour the limoncello into sterilized bottles, cap it and store in the freezer. Make sure to leave a little space in the bottle for expansion when in the freezer. Wait a month before serving. Best served chilled. Makes 3 half litre bottles. Use within six months.