(VERY EASY TO MAKE)
My favorite summertime after-dinner digestivo is the limoncello made from the lemon trees in my mother’s yard in Calabria. You can purchase limoncello in many locations in Italy and the US, but the pre-packaged bottles are never as good as the ones made from those homegrown, freshly-picked Calabrian lemons.
I’ve found that I can make a great limoncello using organic lemons from the supermarket. Of course, they aren’t quite as great as those collected in the warm sunlight of my mother’s garden, but they still make something delicious.
Even the process of making limoncello is a pleasure, because you breath in the aroma of the fresh lemon zest as you prepare it. The only problem with this recipe is that you have to steep the lemon zest in alcohol for a week – or up to three weeks (depends on the point of view). I say 1 week is all is that is needed before you finish the recipe.
Download a PDF with detailed instructions – Limoncello and Crema Recipe [Download]
- 20 organic lemons, preferably less-mature lemons with a very thick skin
- 750 ML rectified spirit, or ethyl alcohol, such as Everclear (I do not recommend the use of vodka as a substitute, that is a terrible idea)
- 750 grams white sugar
- 1.5 Liters water (purified or bottled)
NOTE: The simple syrup is made with water and sugar, in a ratio of 1 liter of water to 500 grams of sugar. If you want 2 liters of simple syrup, just double the quantities (1 KG sugar mixed with 2 liters of water). Most Americans prefer to mix the infusion (the alcohol infused with the ethyl alcohol) at a combination of 1 liter of infusion to 2 liters of simple syrup (1:2). My mother’s recipe is much stronger: 1 liter of infusion is combined with 1 liter of simple syrup (1:1).
- A serrated vegetable peeler – One of the most important things about this recipe is that you need to use the lemon peel, avoiding the pith as much as possible. The pith gives the drink a bitter taste. Peeling the lemons “just so” used to be quite difficult, but now I have started using a microplane. It makes the job easy.
- A large glass jar with a cover. The jar needs to be able to hold at least 1 liter of liquid (more if you choose to double or triple this recipe).
- Another large glass jar that you use for the filtration process.
- Aluminum foil to cover the jar as the limoncello steeps in the rectified spirit.
- Glass bottles for the finished limoncello. You will need 2 1-liter bottles for this recipe.
- A store-bought permanent coffee filter.
How to make this recipe
This is a two part process:
- Create the infusion of lemon zest in alcohol by zesting the lemons, putting the zest in a large jar, and pouring grain alcohol (such as Everclear) into the jar. Cover the jar with aluminum foil and put it in a dark, cool place. Shake the jar every day for at least 7 days, and up to 3 three weeks.
- Once the infusion has matured, make the simple syrup of water and sugar (or alternatively, you can make a “crema” with a combination of heavy cream, milk, and sugar). Once the simple syrup/crema reaches room temperature, you can mix it with the filtered infusion.
- If you have made the limoncello with simple syrup – Cover the jar again and put it in a dark cabinet…and wait at least 2 weeks, preferably 2-3 months, which causes the flavors to blend and become softer.
- If you have made a “crema” with the heavy cream, milk, and sugar – Put the jar into your refrigerator and then wait for 2 weeks. You can then transfer the jar to your freezer.
- Wash and dry the lemons.
- Peel the lemons, making sure that you avoid including the pith.
- Chop the lemon zest, just a little bit.
- Pour the 750 ml of the rectified spirits into the clean glass jar, then add the lemon zest.
- Place the lid on the jar, then wrap it with aluminum foil or a cloth. The reason you cover it with aluminum foil is that the process is photo-sensitive. Therefore, you want to avoid exposing it to light during the one- to three-week steeping process.
- Shake the jar, then place it in a cool, dry, and dark place. Some people say that it’s best to shake the bottle each day; others say just leave it alone. My mother leaves the bottle alone with a towel around it for at least one week, so I suggest you do it her way (moms know best)!
- After the one-to-three week steeping period, you’re ready for the next steps.
- In a very clean saucepan, heat 1 liter of purified water. Add, slowly, ½ kilogram of superfine sugar to the pan and stir it until the liquid is clear, meaning that the sugar has dissolved completely, creating a supersaturated sugar mixture.
- Allow the sugar-water to cool in a glass container.
- Strain the steeped limoncello mixture. Don’t squeeze or try to push the saturated lemon zest in order to extract a few extra ml of limoncello.
- Once the limoncello spirits have been filtered, mix 1:1 with the sugar-water.
- NOTE: Most people perfer a 1:2 ratio of infusion to water, which lowers the alcohol percentage. But my mother likes it strong!
- Decant the limoncello into your clean glass bottles and cap them.
While you can drink this right away, it’s even better if you can store it in a dark place for a couple of weeks — or more — before putting it in the freezer.
- Italians keep limoncello in the freezer — it won’t freeze.
- Enjoy after dinner in a shot glass. Remember that this is a highly alcoholic drink, so sip it.