After posting the Limoncello Recipe a couple months ago, I was inspired to make some for the members of my Italian conversation group. And I figured that while I was at it, I’d document the process for you, the Italy Logue reader! So take this post in tandem with the post about with the recipe for limoncello, so you can see how the stuff develops. (Or, since this post seems to be inordinantly more popular than the actual recipe post, I’ve pasted the recipe itself at the bottom here, under all the pictures!)
>> Want more Italian food? Be sure to look at these Italian classic recipes, too!
This is a photo of the ingredients necessary to make limoncello – a large jar with a tight-sealing lid, grain alcohol, a vegetable peeler and a pile of lemons. I made a double batch, so I had 16 big lemons in that bowl, all thoroughly washed.
Here’s an example of some of the lemon peels – you want to get as little of the white stuff as possible on the peels, as that adds bitterness to your limoncello. With 16 lemons to peel, my hand was seriously cramped at the end of the process. You shouldn’t have the same painful experience with only eight or so.
And after peeling for what seemed like forever (and getting increasingly lazy in my efforts to keep the white bits off the peels), I ended up with this – a bowl full of naked lemons and a bunch of peels in my jar. It should be noted that the lemons will go bad quickly if left out without their skins, so either chuck them in plastic bags and get them in the fridge right away (and plan to use them soon), or juice them and either use or freeze the juice immediately. I froze the juice, so I now have pre-measured juice all ready for a couple batches each of lemon sorbetto and chicken piccata!
Then, into the big jar with all the lemon peels goes the two bottles of grain alcohol (again, this was a double batch). Thankfully, when I originally bought this jar a few years ago the first time I made limoncello, I got a container that was far too large for one single batch. This is one instance where my inability to accurately guess at volume came in handy, because as you can see there’s not only plenty of room for twice the number of lemons and alcohol, but there’s still room to shake the contents up. After dumping the alcohol into the jar, I put the jar in a dark cupboard.
Already by the next day, you can see how much the alcohol has already sucked some of the color (and flavor) out of the lemon peels. The previous day’s clear liquid has turned yellow. The mixture gets shaken every day to help the process along, so if you squirrel yours away into a spot that you don’t access daily, make a note to yourself and stick it on your fridge or something so you don’t forget about it.
Four days into the process the liquid is even more yellow, and more opaque. You can’t see it very well in this picture, but the lemon peels are growing more and more pale, as the liquid grows darker.
Finally, it’s day seven and time to finish making the limoncello. When you strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol, you can really see how pale they are – remember how bright they were before? And what’s more, the peels are no longer soft and pliable – they are now crispy. I don’t know of anything to do with them except toss them, so if someone has a brilliant use for these, do let me know.
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The next step is the combining of the sugar and water. It’s not necessary to heat this mixture to even a simmer, as long as you keep an eye on it you can take it off the heat as soon as the sugar is no longer visible and it looks like a pot of clear water.
This is easily my favorite part of the whole limoncello-making process – the alchemy, if you will. You begin this part with a clear liquid in one pot and a relatively translucent liquid in another. Sure, the yellow stuff isn’t as see-through as the clear stuff, but you can still see the bottom of the dish holding the lemon-flavored alcohol. Nothing special here, right?
But the second the one hits the other, the clear yellow turns to a milky yellow color, creamy and opaque and fabulous. It’s like magic to me, and it’s when I know the limoncello is done. I have no idea what makes this particular combination of ingredients do this, and not every limonello recipe produces this same result – but I love it, and can’t imagine limoncello without it.
And here we are with the finished product! Save those alcohol bottles, folks, they make excellent limoncello containers. I also used some sparkling French lemonade bottles this time, too, because they came with rubber stoppers. These bottles were given to friends, so I simply tied a yellow tag around the neck of each one and wrote “Limoncello 2007” on each one. Keep these in the freezer and you’re all set. (The little glass in the picture has ice cubes in it because the limoncello was not yet cold, but ordinarily you wouldn’t put ice cubes in limoncello.)
I do recommend not letting your limoncello sit for too long – I tried the last few sips of one made last summer and all the sweetness was gone. So, I’d say don’t save it for a special occasion, make every evening a special occasion!
Limoncello di Lucia
- 750 ml bottle of grain alcohol
- 7 or 8 large lemons (make sure they’re organic and not sprayed, you’re using the peel!)
- 5 cups water
- 3 cups sugar
- Wash the lemons thoroughly – scrub them clean of all residue.
- Using a peeler, take off the skins being careful not to get any of the white lemon “pith” onto your peelings or it will add bitterness to your limoncello.
- Put the peels into a large, open-mouth jar with the alcohol and seal the lid tightly. Put the date on the bottle.
- Put the jar in a cool, dry place for one week – once a day, shake the contents well to remix everything. You’ll notice the color of the liquid changing to yellow and the color of the lemon peels fading.
- One week later, dissolve the sugar completely in water by heating it on the stove. Then cool the sugar-water mixture to room temperature.
- Strain the lemon peels out of the alcohol and then mix the alcohol with the sugar-water. Usually the color of the alcohol changes from clear yellow to cloudy yellow when it’s combined with the sugar-water.
- Pour the mixture into bottles which can be sealed tightly and store them in the freezer. If the limoncello is kept “frozen” until serving it becomes thick and syrupy.