(Note: the recipe is at the end ↓ Only 5 short paragraphs between here and there, I promise!)
I first tried limoncello while out with friends and fellow Couchsurfers at Trattoria da Nennella in Naples. There were 14 of us there and we had lots of food and red wine. I'm a lightweight and came into liking wine relatively late in life, so I was feeling the effects of the vino. (Naturally, I immediately transitioned into being a winesnob.) After all the pasta and meat dishes, it was time for dessert — fruit!
There we were, munching happily away on bananas and clementine, when a few bottles of yellow stuff showed up, along with tiny glasses. I saw everyone taking very, very small servings of the beverage. I joined in and took a cautious sip. WOW! It was strong stuff! Still, it was delicious, so I continued nursing my wee glass just as the proprietors loudly came to kick us out (it's tradition there; the staff is outrageously rude — it's part of the charm). Oops, no time for sipping! Had to down it in one gulp! Thought it was going to melt the enamel off my teeth! Hooooooo, stay away from open flames, I thought to myself.
I managed to scramble past all of the folding chairs and out of the patio tent flap, following after my friends. And then, standing there in the Quartieri Spagnoli, taking in the Neapolitan night, marveling at my good fortune over landing a job in Italy …the limoncello hit. Time for another, "Wow!" Not a falling-over-dizzy-nausea-omg-I think-I'm-going-to-pass-out feeling, but a warm-relaxed-all-is-right-with-the-world-and-here-I-am-with-several-new-friends-in-Italy-omg-what-am-I-doing-in-Italy-how-awesome-is-that? feeling. And I was a convert. LIMONCELLO FOR THE MASSES, I SAY!*
Much later, I came to realize that limoncello did not have to be the enamel-endangering experience of Nennella. It comes in many different intensities, sweetness levels, and even flavors (can you imagine melting your teeth with melon-flavored alcohol?). The quality of the lemons is a major factor in flavor, as is the skill of the maker. The lemons in Italy are some of the best in the world, especially in Campania where much of the soil has been magically enhanced by volcanic contributions over the years.
I'm not saying this was a factor in deciding to marry Dario, but it certainly didn't hurt that his mom, Serenella, makes the best limoncello I have ever tasted. Not too sweet, not too strong, not too watery — just right! And luckily for you, she doesn't mind sharing her recipe. I'm not sure how you'll get lemons from Italy, but do your utmost, for they are incredibile!
*unless of course, you have health or religious restrictions; then pass your portion to a neighbor
What you need:
– 500 ml alcohol (grain alcohol)
– 500 ml water
– 500 ml white sugar
– zest of 3-5 organic lemons; use 3 if large, 5 if small
– 2 large glass bottles (cannot be plastic)
1) put lemon zest and alcohol in glass bottle for 3 days; shake/mix 1-2 times/day
2) boil water & sugar in a small pot until it becomes syrup; remove from heat
3) slowly add alcohol to syrup, being careful to filter out lemon zest*; rinse bottle
4) pour mixture into glass bottles; filter again during this time, if necessary
5) keep for 40 days, out of the light
6) put in freezer to chill
*Serenella did not say it, but I suspect cheesecloth would work for this
Share with your friends and enjoy! Salute!