I first heard of Limoncello (which is so fun to say: Lemon Cello, and not to be confused with Lemon Jello, which is what my kids thought I was making today, much to their disappointment) a couple years ago when meeting some friends in West Chester for dinner. The restaurant Limoncello in West Chester, PA offers a vibrant, innovative menu with a slightly middle aged hipster vibe. But the real star is their limoncello martini. In general, I do not love sweet or girly drinks, but I fell in love with this martini. Limoncello, in addition to being the name of my imaginary rock band and a cool restaurant, is actually an Italian lemon liqueur traditionally served as an after-dinner digestivo. I have also had it served straight up, and it’s indescribably good. Smooth, strong and sweet, just the perfect ending to a nice meal.
I pictured myself offering it to guests in my home after an elegant dinner and saying, “Oh, yes, I made this myself this summer. I’m so glad you like it!” Thankfully, I was able to round up a couple of friends to get in on my
overly ambitious hare-brained scheme fun limoncello project, and we began Part 1 today.
After careful deliberation and combing of the internet, I decided upon this Limoncello recipe from Epicurious. My main concern was how to zest without getting any white pith in the formula, and the Microplane zester seemed like the obvious solution. I used the fine grater (darker bowl), and my friends used the larger grater (lighter bowl). You can see the pictures below. They both did a good job:
Once we grated 30ish lemons each, we added them to four bottles of 100 proof vodka (we doubled the recipe below). Now it just needs to sit for 30 days in my basement. <insert moonshine jokes here> Next month we will reconvene and add a simple syrup to our glass containers, along with more vodka, and then it’s more waiting.
Even if this turns out to be an expensive mistake, I very much enjoyed spending the morning with my two friends grating lemons and chit chatting, just like the pioneer women of Kentucky.
2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka**
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
* Choose thick-skinned lemons because they are easier to zest.
** Use 100-proof vodka, which has less flavor than a lower proof one. Also the high alcohol level will ensure that the limoncello will not turn to ice in the freezer.
Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any reside of pesticides or wax; pat the lemons dry.
Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello.
In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar), add one bottle of vodka; add the lemon zest as it is zested. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least (10) ten days and up to (40) days in a cool dark place. The longer it rests, the better the taste will be. (There is no need to stir – all you have to do is wait.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest.
In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool before adding it to the limoncello mixture. Add to the limoncello mixture from Step One. Add the additional bottle of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days.
After the rest period, strain and bottle: discarding the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.