Limoncello to me will always be my first night in Florence, sitting in an outdoor cafe on the Palazzo Vecchio at midnight with my mom and some artist friends drinking this delicious after dinner digestif. This was my first time ever traveling abroad. The drink became the embodiment of everything I love about travel: sweet and surprising, with a whisper of that country's everyday routine. I spent the remainder of my trip in Italy finishing off my nights with this limoncello nightcap, as the Italians do to close out their meal. The lightness of the lemons acts as a palate cleanser as digestive (where the drink title "digestif" comes from). Even now, I love to enjoy a bit of limoncello on my patio using my favorite traditional shot-glass sized limoncello cups that I purchased from Capri.
Imagine my delight when I found out how easy it is to make this drink! This liquor is actually made from lemon peels rather than the fruit itself. They soak in vodka or another clear spirit for anywhere from a week to a month and then the ensuing lemony spirit is mixed with water and sugar. I let my peels steep for almost three weeks, as the longer you let the steep, the richer the lemony taste of the drink. The important thing is to make sure that you use organic lemons since you need a chemical free peel to soak in your alcohol base. This drink is best served chilled, usually after dinner or a big meal. My family typically enjoys this on Sundays after our pasta feast. You can also use it as a base for other cocktails--but more on that later.
I prefer to make this in smaller batches because I like to play with the amount of lemon peels I put in each batch. Since it is so easy to whip up, these small batches are ideal for this sort of experimentation. I often use more lemon peels (almost double) than is traditionally called for in this recipe, because I like their brightness more than the sugary taste. After trying limoncello all over Italy during my stay, I found that this drink ranged from light and crisp (ideal) to super syrupy (yuk!), so I made sure that my recipe stayed on the awesome side of this spectrum. I also used raw organic sugar, making my final product come out darker than the traditional drink--more like a rich honey hue than a bright lemon yellow--but it still tastes delicious. Don't discard the lemons after you peel them; save them instead for some homemade lemonade.
2 cups good quality vodka
1 3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
Remove the peel from your 6 lemons using a vegetable peeler. Make sure that you are getting the peel only and not the bitter pith. Place peels in a mason jar and pour vodka over them. Seal jar and let sit for at least two weeks and no more than one month, shaking the jar periodically.
Once the peels have steeped and you are ready to finish your limoncello, strain the alcohol from the peels and discard the peels. Heat water and sugar in a saucepan on medium-hight until sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Add sugar water to your alcohol and stir. Store in two airtight mason jars and let cool complete in the fridge for at least four hours before drinking. Lasts for up to one month in the fridge. Makes about 4 cups of limoncello. Enjoy!
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