Monday, March 01, 2010
In Season NW: A Little Limoncello
With Meyer lemons in season right now, it's time to think about saving these wonderful yellow fruits for later. Preserved lemons are some of my favorite condiments, great stuffed in green olives for martinis and in Moroccan dishes, but nothing beats a sip of limoncello on a hot summer day. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood shares his recipe.
I saw a recipe for limoncello online recently. It wasn’t really wrong, but it called for macerating lemon zest in vodka. There’s a much better way to make limoncello, a specialty of the Sorrentine Peninsula, and while the season for citrus is winding down, there’s still a nice selection in the markets.
My approach comes from Giuliano Bugialli, a cookbook author who write about the regional dishes of Italy. He says this is how they do it along the coast south of Naples.
Start with a trip to the liquor store to pick up some grain alcohol, commonly called Everclear after a well-known brand (but not the one sold here in Oregon). Grain alcohol is more neutral than vodka, not too mention much stronger, and it’s what’s used in Italy.
You’ll need 5 to 6 lemons for 750 ml (a “fifth”) of alcohol. I usually use Meyer lemons, but the more common Persian lemons will work, too. Other items to gather before starting include cheesecloth, string and a few wide-mouth jars (two quart jars for each 750 ml of alcohol).
Use the cheesecloth and string to make a pouch for 2 to 3 lemons. You’ll need to slip this inside the jar, so make it loose enough to allow for the lemons to shift around. Pour the alcohol into the jars, leaving enough room for the lemons to hang in the jar without touching the alcohol. Use tape or more string to secure the lemon pouches, and cover the jars with a couple of layers of plastic wrap (the alcohol will evaporate if the jars are not tightly sealed). Put the jars in a dark place and wait.
While it might not seem like much is happening, the alcohol fumes will, over a few months, leech the flavor out of the lemon peel. Later this summer (July 4th, say), make a simple syrup of water and sugar (I used to make my syrup for limoncello from equal parts sugar and water, but now use 4 parts sugar to 5 water so it’s not too sweet).
Unseal the jars of alcohol and discard the lemons. Dilute the alcohol by half for 90 proof (quite strong); add a bit more syrup or plain water for a less potent batch (do this slowly, in a small container, and taste it along the way).
This limoncello won’t have the vibrant yellow color you get from soaking the zest in the alcohol, but it also doesn’t have the bitterness from the white pith that’s hard to avoid when you’re cutting the zest. It’s delicious over ice or mixed with iced tea for a summer cooler.