A do-it-yourself digestivo
When life hands you lemons, make limoncello, the sweet and lemony liqueur long enjoyed by the Italians as a “digestivo.” Traditionally taken after dining as an aid to digestion, it is becoming increasingly popular to enjoy anytime and is best enjoyed sipped straight, ice cold and without ice. (I’ve been told the Italians never put ice in their limoncello. So store it in your freezer. The alcohol content prevents it from freezing.) It makes a particularly yummy ingredient in a mixed cocktail as it imparts a vibrant lemon flavor without being bitter or sour. (Only the lemon rinds are used for flavoring—true limoncello contains no lemon juice.)
Making your own limoncello is easy and inexpensive, requiring only sugar, water, lemons, alcohol and time to mature. A higher proof alcohol maximizes the extraction of the lemon flavor and, with a little time in the bottle, will be delightfully infused with the pronounced yet mellowed flavor of lemons. Homemade limoncello should be very lemony and smooth, spreading warmth like alcohol tends to do, but with that little “kick” to it, too.
Limoncello is also becoming a popular ingredient in desserts, and it’s a wonderful alternative to the coffee-flavoring called for in traditional tiramisu and the squeezed lemon juice needed in homemade lemon curd. A perfect summer dessert is fresh mixed berries topped with limoncello cream. Don’t forget to serve a little chilled limoncello in the glass as a digestivo to your meal. Cheers!
Makes about 2 quarts
1 (750-ml) bottle vodka
2 cups sugar
4 cups water
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips and place the lemon peels in a 2-quart container. Pour the vodka over the lemon peels and seal with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for three days at room temperature.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and cook until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 3 minutes. Allow to cool. Combine the sugar water with the vodka and let stand at room temperature overnight.
Strain the vodka mixture and discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles and seal. Refrigerate until chilled. Keep refrigerated.
Note: The longer it sits in the bottle the smoother it gets.
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
4 cups assorted fresh berries
Zest of one lemon
1 cup chilled whipping cream
6 ounces mascarpone cheese
½ cup granulated sugar
2 ounces limoncello liqueur
Zest of one lemon
In a large bowl, combine the sliced strawberries, mixed berries and zest of one lemon. Toss gently. Cover and chill.
Using an electric mixer in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, combine the cream, cheese, sugar and liqueur and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the zest of one lemon.
Divide the berry mixture among eight footed dessert glasses and top with the limoncello cream. Serve immediately.
From the Summer 2009 issue of SONOMA