Monday, March 01, 2010

In Season NW: A Little Limoncello

With Meyer lemons in season right now, it's time to think about saving these wonderful yellow fruits for later. Preserved lemons are some of my favorite condiments, great stuffed in green olives for martinis and in Moroccan dishes, but nothing beats a sip of limoncello on a hot summer day. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood shares his recipe.


I saw a recipe for limoncello online recently. It wasn’t really wrong, but it called for macerating lemon zest in vodka. There’s a much better way to make limoncello, a specialty of the Sorrentine Peninsula, and while the season for citrus is winding down, there’s still a nice selection in the markets.

My approach comes from Giuliano Bugialli, a cookbook author who write about the regional dishes of Italy. He says this is how they do it along the coast south of Naples.

Start with a trip to the liquor store to pick up some grain alcohol, commonly called Everclear after a well-known brand (but not the one sold here in Oregon). Grain alcohol is more neutral than vodka, not too mention much stronger, and it’s what’s used in Italy.

You’ll need 5 to 6 lemons for 750 ml (a “fifth”) of alcohol. I usually use Meyer lemons, but the more common Persian lemons will work, too. Other items to gather before starting include cheesecloth, string and a few wide-mouth jars (two quart jars for each 750 ml of alcohol).

Use the cheesecloth and string to make a pouch for 2 to 3 lemons. You’ll need to slip this inside the jar, so make it loose enough to allow for the lemons to shift around. Pour the alcohol into the jars, leaving enough room for the lemons to hang in the jar without touching the alcohol. Use tape or more string to secure the lemon pouches, and cover the jars with a couple of layers of plastic wrap (the alcohol will evaporate if the jars are not tightly sealed). Put the jars in a dark place and wait.

While it might not seem like much is happening, the alcohol fumes will, over a few months, leech the flavor out of the lemon peel. Later this summer (July 4th, say), make a simple syrup of water and sugar (I used to make my syrup for limoncello from equal parts sugar and water, but now use 4 parts sugar to 5 water so it’s not too sweet).

Unseal the jars of alcohol and discard the lemons. Dilute the alcohol by half for 90 proof (quite strong); add a bit more syrup or plain water for a less potent batch (do this slowly, in a small container, and taste it along the way).

This limoncello won’t have the vibrant yellow color you get from soaking the zest in the alcohol, but it also doesn’t have the bitterness from the white pith that’s hard to avoid when you’re cutting the zest. It’s delicious over ice or mixed with iced tea for a summer cooler.


B said...

i found meyer lemons at winco being sold as just plain lemons. Can u tellme the name of a grin alcohol I can buy here in Oregon

Kim said...

You guys should be able to get "Everclear 151" down there. We carry it in WA now.

Drizzle over home made vanilla ice cream... to die for!

Jim Dixon said...

The grain alcohol I've been buying from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's officially sanctioned stores here in the Beaver State is Clear Spring brand, 190 proof, about $35/half gallon. Like kleenex, everclear has become part of the everyday lexicon, so if you ask for it at an Oregon liquor store the clerks probably wo't even say anything when they hand you the Clear Spring.

My control bottle of limoncello, from the amazing Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant' Agata sui due Golfi, wsa made using organic grain alcohol. Good luck finding that.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Jim, for clearing that up. I was going to run over to the OLCC store myself to see what they had. Then I guess I'd be committed to making some limoncello myself, darn it!

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

This sounds like more of a pain than the standard soaking booze in lemon rind method.

I make ridiculously good limoncello ( and orangecello ) and Nocino, hazlenut liquor, and a fennelcello ( or anise liquor ) made from my and my neighbor's fennel seeds.

The quickest and simplest way I've found to make limoncello is to take 7-10 lemons. grate the outer rind off using a microplane grater,which allows you to avoide the white pith.

Place the lemons in a quart canning jar, fill with vodka ( I prefer vodka as it's not quite as "rough" as grain alcohol, also, when you add water to grain to lower the alcohol content, you make it harder to keep in the freezer as the water content makes it freeze solid if you lower the alcohol content by too much ).

leave that mess in the jar for 30 days or so, then strain through cheesecloth.

mix 1 to 5 cups sugar ( I usually use about 2 ) with one cup water and heat to create simple syrup.

Combine syrup and infused vodka.

Put in freezer, and pull out when good friends come over.


PS.. I love your blog.. I've just created my own blog which will highlight many of my projects like this.. please check it out if you're interested.



Kathleen Bauer said...

Quick question: Did you mean put the lemon zest in the vodka, or the lemons with the pith on? I was confused (not an unusual occurrence!).

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I use a microplane grater to grate off the yellow part of the rind, leaving all of the bitter white pith behind... it's a bit of a mess, but it works great and gives you only pure lemon flavor.

( sorry it's take me so long to respond ).

all the best.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks for the clarification, Todd! And better late than never… said...

I, too, make limoncello with meyers but half meyer and half organic lemons. For an exhaustive recipe, see the link below. I follow this but I don't do the 4 filterings. Instead, I do one before adding the simple syrup and then another. But the 2nd, I use cheese cloth or else it goes too slowly.

Also, I recommend against grating. I think you lose too much alcohol in the bits and risk getting too much pith. I peel with a good peeler in one big spiral and then slice off any pith with a sharp paring knife by laying the peel flat. Bigger pieces are easier to pick out of the alcohol. Let them sit in a colander and you collect a bit more liquid.