Friday, May 29, 2009

Stage 19, Part II: Passing Limoncello Land


Watching the peloton pass through beautiful Sorrento today reminded me of the wonderful Limoncello from there. Limoncello is serious business, there is even the equivalent of wine "D.O.C." for lemons, "I.G.P" (in English, Protected Geographical Indication).



It also reminded me of the story of a guest, Glenn Ackerson, of GranFondo Cycling Tours (http://www.gftours.com/) who did a nice write-up on making your own limencello:




Limoncello (lee-mohn-CHEH-loh)
Limoncello is the generic name for an Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur that is served well chilled in the summer months. Limoncello is now considered the national drink of Italy and can be found in stores and restaurants all over Italy. Limoncello is an absolutely natural product acquired by the infusion of lemon skins in pure alcohol. It has become Italy's second most popular drink after Campari. Refreshing and light, it is wonderful as a palate cleanser or as an after dinner drinks. It is also an incomparable digestive, and with tonic water, it is a sweet, tasty refreshment. It's also great mixed with champagne or juice as a cocktail. It even does well simply drizzled on ice cream, fruit salads, or fresh strawberries. Keep your bottles of limoncello in the freezer until ready to serve. The ingredients are simple and few, and making a batch doesn't require much work, but you'll need some time. In most recipes, limoncello must steep for (80) eighty days.



History: It has long been a staple in the lemon-producing region along the Italian Amalfi Coast in Capri and Sorrento. The Amalfi Coast is known for its citrus groves and narrow winding roads.
Authentic limoncello is made from Sorrento lemons, which come from the Amalfi Coast. Families in Italy have passed down recipes for this for generations, as every Italian family has their own limoncello recipe.



Italian Limoncello Recipe #1
15 lemons*

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 residue 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.


Step One: 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 takes on the flavor and the rich yellow color of the lemon zest.


Step Two: 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.


Step Three: After the rest period, strain and bottle, discarding the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.



Italian Limoncello Recipe #2
The zest of 20 medium sized lemons

2 bottles of 100 proof vodka

2 cups sugar

2 cups water


Start by washing your lemons in warm water to remove the wax from the outside, or use unwaxed, organic lemons.



Next, zest the lemons carefully using a microplane or very small holed grater. Make a point not to go too deep and get any of the white pith of the rind in with the zest as it will make your finished product bitter. You're just after the oils and they are in the yellow part at the surface.



Now add your lemon zest to your booze and let it sit unmolested by light or extreme heat for two weeks, giving it a shake twice day or so. At the end of the two weeks, strain the vodka through cheesecloth or a fine strainer. Press the zest firmly to extract the maximum flavor. Take your sugar and water and bring it up to a low boil. When the liquid has become clear, the sugar has dissolved into the water. Turn it off and let it cool. (This is commonly known as simple syrup.) When your syrup is cool, thoroughly mix in your lemon-vodka infusion and decant into your various containers. Now, just attach a funny note and give away to your fake friends making sure to mention that it took you the better part of two months to make.



Variations: You can use citrus other than lemons with this recipe. Flavor will vary wildly depending on whether you choose to use grapefruits or tangerines. If you plan on sipping your limoncello yourself on a far-in-the-future hot summer day, you can add less simple syrup for a more tart and bracing flavor. Also, if you are not being pressed by the holiday deadline, you can let the zest or the finished product age longer to make it stronger and smoother.




Italian Limoncello Recipe #3
One bottle (750 ml) Everclear

One bottle (750 ml) vodka (I would recommend a decent bottle, like Smirnoff, but nothing too extravagant.)

20 organic lemons

4 cups sugar

4 cups water


Wash the lemons in hot water and clean with vegetable wash (organic and nontoxic). Scrub vigorously and rince.. Note: Lemon peels are how you create the drink’s flavor and color, so it is important that the lemons are clean. I found the vegetable wash at Whole Foods for pretty cheap (less than $3). I've found that nearly every lemon sold in a store is coated in food wax. You need to remove this wax as much as possible before you peel the lemons. I looked everywhere for lemons without wax (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, local markets) without success.



Peel the lemons (retaining the peels for later) being sure not to peel any of the white part under the peel, otherwise known as pith. Note: Peeling is another key step. It is very easy to get the pith when peeling. You'll inevitably get some while you're peeling, but if you keep it at a minimum, you should be OK. The pith creates a bitter finish to the limoncello that you want to avoid. We used a super sharp, large-size vegetable peeler to get the peels off. Keep the peels in long strips to make it easier when you strain later. You can use a sharp knife if you're not afraid of losing a thumb. I've heard of others using a zester for this step, but I've found that to be prohibitively tedious, especially if you're doing a double batch.



Put the lemon peels in a large glass container with the vodka and everclear. Note: Some people will use only Everclear and some only vodka. I've found that a mixture is the best recipe. You're not so over the top alcoholic by using the Everclear only, and the vodka alone can be too low in the alcohol content, resulting in a limoncello that freezes in the freezer— which is where it is ideally kept. The higher alcohol content of Everclear prevents it from being diluted to the point where it freezes.



Swirl the lemon peel and alcohol mixture together daily in the jar. Store the lemon peel and alcohol mixture for as little as two weeks or up to four months. Note: The longer you leave the peels in contact with the alcohol, the more yellow and lemony your limoncello will be. After two weeks, you'll likely get a limoncello as good as anything you can buy in a store for $20 or so. A little longer will get you the type of limoncello that you can find only in Italy in small shops on the Amalfi Coast (and on Capri) or in the freezers of Italian grandmothers throughout the country.


After you get to the point where you're ready to finish the limoncello, remove the bigger peels with a slotted spoon. Once you've removed the bigger peels, you need to strain the entire mixture through coffee filters to remove as many of the impurities as possible. You can do this by putting the filters into funnels and straining that way. Note: If you pre-wet the filters with water, they won't absorb as much of the liquor mixture, reducing waste.



Meanwhile, you can be working on the sugar syrup. Mix the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let boil for at least seven minutes. Let syrup cool to room temperature, and then combine with lemon-alcohol mixture. At this point you can bottle using funnels. You should ideally let the limoncello "marry" together for a week in the bottle before consuming, but no one's going to fault you if you sneak a taste or two.


If you think that you're going to be making limoncello, start holding onto bottles, especially interesting, decorative ones. Limoncello makes a great gift that's homemade. If you want to stretch your limoncello stash and still spread the love, get miniature decorative bottles with swivel tops from Cost Plus World Market and fill those as the gift.



After the Giro we'll get back to "regular programming": everything from A to Z about Italian cycling. Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact veronaman@gmail.com.

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