16 Mar 13 at 1:15 PM #3743
Meyer lemons are in full-swing in most markets, and at our house, that means Limoncino time! Don’t you mean Limoncello? Well, yes and no—while both drinks have basically the same properties, they have different names, and like most things Italian, it’s a regional thing. In the North, around the Portofino/Cinque Terre region, it’s Limoncino. In the South, around Naples/Sorrento, it’s Limoncello.
I think the circumstances surrounding a new food or drink experience color your affinity for a particular item as much as the item itself, and Limoncino has a dear place in my heart for that reason.
I first tasted this delicious liquore on our first trip to Italy, many years ago. We were young, naïve, and determined to be open to whatever Italy had to offer us. We were on a whirlwind 18-cities-in-21-days European ‘sampler’ tour (thanks to inspiration from Rick Steves), and we had just finished the French leg of our trip. Next stop—Vernazza in the Cinque Terre. Here is where we both fell hopelessly in love with Italy.
Vernazza is a harbor town, and the seawall and beach are ringed with lovely little restaurants that serve the freshest fish you will ever eat—prepared simply and with care. We had enjoyed a marvelous dinner at Taverna Il Capitano, and our waiter suggested a nightcap digestivo at Bar Belforte in the watchtower at the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea.
A dizzying climb up cliffside stairs, hanging on to the guide rope for dear life, delivered us at a submarine-style door in the tower, and clambering in, we found ourselves in a warm and welcoming bar. Two small cordial glasses and a frosty bottle of homemade Limoncino made from the large, lumpy local lemons were plunked down on the table in front of us, and it was love at first sip…
Below is my recipe for Limoncino—I use Meyer lemons, as they add a distinctly floral note. Go ahead and use regular supermarket lemons, but whichever type of lemon you use, you must use organically grown fruit, as the alcohol leaches the oils (and any residual chemicals) from the peels as it steeps.
Makes about 2 quarts
- 8 Organic Lemons
- 1 quart 90% alcohol (Everclear or Clear Spring)
- 14 ounces sugar
- 1 quart bottled still water
1. Peel the lemons, leaving a little white pith attached to the peel. Reserve the lemon fruit for another use, we will only use the peels.
2. Put the peels in a large glass container with the alcohol, close it well, and leave it in a cool place for at least 4 days, preferably a week. Gently shake a couple of times a day. The peels will lose their brilliant yellow color, and become brittle.
3. On the fifth day or later, prepare a syrup of the sugar and bottled water, making sure the water never quite boils. Stir and simmer 5 minutes, then after the sugar has dissolved, allow the syrup to cool.
4. Strain the lemon-scented alcohol through cheesecloth or a strainer, discard the peels, and mix the alcohol into the syrup. At this point the alcohol will take on a rich, dense lemon color that you can’t see through. Stir or shake well before bottling.
5. Let the limoncino sit for 2 or 3 days. If you can’t wait, it’s okay to taste a little right away. Serve cold as an aperitivo — I store the bottle in the freezer.
This liquore is delicious and refreshing on its own, but at 100 proof can be a bit strong for beginners—it’s fine to dilute it with sparkling water or club soda, and makes a festive cocktail when poured into a champagne flute and topped off with Prosecco.
16 Mar 13 at 1:33 PM #3745
This is one of my favorite aperitivi in Italy — perfect on a hot summer day with friends. As Teresa says, it’s best to keep it in the freezer so that it’s served super-cold, the best way in my opinion. Don’t worry about it freezing, the alcohol keeps it in a liquid state.
17 Feb 16 at 2:50 PM #8120
This is a very nice recipe, thank you Teresa. Let me tell you something, (I come from Naples near Sorrento) because the real "Limoncello" is the one made with the Sorrento lemons, who cares about Portofino. The real name is Limoncello. 😉
I am thinking that this recipe is good even for my recipe website.
Check out my Italian recipe site:
1 May 16 at 1:42 PM #8362
Ciao, Domenico–thank you for the compliment! I know that the provenance of food and drink are a source of great regional pride. 🙂 I just finished making another batch, and I’m looking forward to lots of opportunities to sip in the sun!
I would love to see your recipe collection on your website, however, when I click on the link, it won’t open.
Wishing you a lovely and tasty summer!
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