I first found out about limoncello from my sister who essentially described it as a liquid lemon drop that was alcoholic. I was pretty much sold on it right then and there based purely on that description. And then she brought me a bottle from Italy and it sat on a shelf for months. Literally months. You’d think I wasn’t interested, but the problem was really that I was terrified to open it because I didn’t want to finish it. I kept waiting for the perfect excuse to open it… and waited…and waited. When I finally opened it, I sipped slowly, enjoying every drop.
And then several months ago I came across a recipe for limoncello. What? I had no idea I could make it! I had to make some, and stat. My sister’s birthday was coming up and thought it would be the perfect gift for her (plus there would be plenty left for me!). Limoncello takes a a little over a month to make, so I had to get going. I got my bottles, my vodka, a recipe from the fabulous Eat Boutique, and got started.
Limoncello really is very easy to make. It’s just vodka that’s been marinating with lemon peels for several weeks and then mixed with simple syrup. That’s it. All you need are some lemons, vodka, sugar, and water. The only tricky part is that when you peel the lemons, you need to be very careful not to get any of the white pith in it. The yellow part of the peel is what injects the vodka with bright lemon flavor, but the pith is painfully bitter.
While my lemon peel and vodka sat tucked away in my pantry infusing, I waited anxiously for my sister’s birthday and my chance to pop open the bottle. But then something happened. It started when we went to a Belgian restaurant and my sister wanted neither beer nor mussels. I leaned over and whispered, “You’re pregnant!” No, no, she insisted. She had a headache and she didn’t feel like mussels. But later that night with the family asssembled she announced some big news: they were indeed having a baby!
I was so excited about my big sister having a baby that it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I remembered the limoncello waiting for her in my pantry. I could hardly give a pregnant woman some alcohol for her birthday and was disappointed until I realized that just meant more limoncello for me. Still, it was a lot of limoncello, so I poured some into little mason jars to hand out and made some friends very happy. It would be the perfect little gift for a bridal shower – if I could only go back in time, that’s exactly what I would have done for my sister’s shower.
Recipe adapted from Eat Boutique
- 1 bottle (750 ml) vodka, 80-100 proof
- 9 organic lemons, washed
- 3 cups sugar
- 3 cups water
- Pour the vodka into a large, clean bottle with a wide opening and an airtight cover. Peel the yellow thin layer of zest off of each lemon very carefully, making sure to avoid any of the white pith (we found that a vegetable peeler worked much better than a knife). If any of the strips have pith on them, scrape it off with a sharp knife. Place the zest strips in the same bottle that holds the vodka. Cover the bottle and place it in a cool, dark place for at least four weeks. Every couple of days, shake the bottle up a bit.
- When the four weeks are up, strain the zest from the vodka, discarding the zest. Combine the sugar and water in a pot and gently bring to a boil to make a simple syrup. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Once the sugar has dissolved, take the mixture off the stove and let it cool a short while.
- Combine the vodka with the simple syrup in a large bowl (or in your wide mouth bottle if it's big enough). Using a funnel, distribute the limoncello into your storage bottles (I used two 750 ml bottles, although the bottles weren't full). You can either start drinking it now, or put the bottles back in a cool dark spot for two weeks to give it a little extra time to fully develop.
- Place the bottles in the freezer and pour when you want a refreshing burst of cool limoncello, or to mix into a cocktail.