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Ready, Set, Go: Make Italian Limoncello

For the moment, long distance travel to Italy, one of my favorite destinations, is not possible. To remind myself of my trip last fall to Milan and the Piedmont, I have been enjoying Italian treats. Charred red peppers topped with anchovies. Homemade pasta. And, limoncello.

From the scourges of the pandemic, we can learn that our good fortune is fragile and that our determination to overcome adversity is indomitable.

Staying safe at home, we're taking the long view.


The days are good. We do our work remotely. At dinner we watch the PBS NewsHourthen we stream episodes of the Swedish The Restaurant or the French The Bureau or the Israeli Shtisel.


We look forward to the time when we'll be able to have a meal at a restaurant, meet friends for a walk on the beach (even as we still observe social distancing), go to a movie theater and have a dinner party at our house.

To celebrate that time, I'm infusing spirits. Italian limoncello is made with vodka, a great number of lemon peels and simple syrup (sugar "melted" in water) and Japanese Umeshu (more about that in another post) is made with fresh Ume (green sour plums), Japanese rock sugar and vodka.

I make limoncello because my wife drinks an iced tea every afternoon. Now that our dining room is her "office," I know that her daily routine is to have an iced black tea with a lot of fresh lemons.

When Michelle leaves me her post-squeezed lemons, I trim off the white, bitter pith and add the peels to a jar of vodka I keep on a shelf in the garage. Day by day, the lemon peels accumulate and fill the jar.

Over time they transfer their citrus-intensity to the neutral vodka. The more time, the more depth of flavor.

Waiting six months is good. Twelve months is better. To transform the lemon infused vodka into limoncello, I'll add simple syrup and place the bottles in the freezer. When it's time to toast the resumption of our lives, we can raise our glasses with homemade limoncello and celebrate life!


Homemade Limoncello

I first enjoyed limoncello in Italy. Of course. Nothing could be better than sitting at a table at an outdoor cafe, watching people walk by, sipping an ice cold glass of limoncello. Italy has been through so much during the pandemic. So have we all. I can think of no better way to celebrate a return to our new-normal lives than to toast Italy and the resilience of life!

Cin Cin!

Since the vodka will be flavored with lemon peels and simple syrup, no need to buy a premium brand. Use an inexpensive spirit like the off-brands sold in supermarkets or in Smart & Final.

Only use unblemished lemon peels. Meyer lemons have a milder quality and I like to use them when available.


Select a large jar with room for the lemon peels. In general that means filling the jar only 2/3s with vodka, leaving the remainder of the space to be filled with lemon peels.

Do not add lemon juice.

The amount of simple syrup combined with the infused vodka depends on whether you enjoy a dry or a sweet limoncello.  I suggest as you add the simple syrup, taste as you combine the two. You might want to use less simple syrup. Any simple syrup not used can be saved indefinitely for other uses in cocktails, baking and cooking.

Ingredients

20 lemons, peels only, no juice, washed, white pith and pulp removed and discarded

Fifth of vodka

1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

Directions

Place the glass jar and lid into the dishwasher or wash with hot water and soap to sterilize.

Pour in vodka no more than 2/3s of the volume of the jar.

Add lemon peels as you use lemons. If you have a lemon tree, you will be able to add many lemon peels at once.

After six or more months, strain out lemon peels for another use. (Kept in a small amount of vodka, the peels will can be sliced thin and used to flavor cocktails and desserts.)

Measure and set aside vodka.

In a saucepan add an amount of white sugar that equals the amount of vodka.

To the saucepan, add an amount of water equal to the white sugar.

Set on a low flame. Do not stir or disturb.

As bubbles rise from the bottom of the pan, the sugar will slowly dissolve. When the sugar has dissolved completely, allow simple syrup to cool.


Combine simple syrup and vodka, tasting as you add to determine the level of sweetness you prefer. Mix well.

Keep bottle in freezer. Allow bottle to sit on the counter for 15 minutes and serve icy-cold.

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