When life gives you lemons, throat-searingly strong home-distilled moonshine and a real live Italian imported direct from the motherland, you just have to make limoncello.
And preferably the traditional way.
Carmelo, who shall henceforth be known as The Italian, had popped Down Under for a quick Christmas visit. He’s from Milan but his family’s Sicilian, which is important because southern Italy’s where this grand liqueur originally hails from.
The Italian offered up his family recipe, the one they make each year to ensure their own never-ending supply of Sicily’s best limoncello. Yes, please.
Meanwhile, our sister Candice had just bought an incredible country property in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills. It came complete with a backyard lemon tree, handily already laden with organically-grown lemons.
And it turns out Dad had a ready supply of moonshine thanks to his enterprising neighbour, who possibly-not-legally distills spirits in his shed. It was handed to me in a plastic soda water bottle with “ALCOHOL” scrawled messily all over it. Apparently he’s terrified someone will kill themselves mistakenly swigging it, the stuff’s that strong.
The Italian was pretty amused by that, considering you can buy 95 per cent alcohol for under €13 (about $20 AUD) at the supermarket in Italy. The supermarket. You can’t even buy light beer at most Australian supermarkets.
So we grabbed an old pickle jar and a peeler and got to work. Three weeks later and we’re supping on possibly the best damn limoncello in Australia. Heck, maybe even Italy.
We’ll be supping for a long time, actually. This recipe makes up to three litres of limoncello, meaning it’s near on a lifetime supply if you drink it Italian style – one shot served chilled for sipping and savouring after a damn good meal as a stomach-settling digestivo. Lemon’s good for the digestion, apparently. And deliciously refreshing to boot.
Or we’ll have to do as the Italians do and invite a million people around for dinner – and only on the strict proviso that they each promise to shout loudly and terrifyingly over the top of one another throughout the entire meal.
Ah, Italy. What’s not to love?
Homemade Italian limoncello
Makes 2.5 litres of limoncello. (Or 3 litres if you choose the slightly weaker mix – but why would you?)
11 lemons, preferably organic
1 litre of 95 per cent alcohol content spirit
1.5 litres water
700g white sugar
Or for a less alcoholic mix:
2 litres water
1kg white sugar
Wash the lemons well, even scrubbing them a little so they’re very clean. Dry each lemon with a tea towel so the excess water doesn’t dilute the alcohol. (We want maximum strength limoncello, people!)
With a sharp knife or peeler, cut between the lemon rind and white membrane of each lemon. Take care to avoid the pitch, the white membrane under the rind, as it’s bitter.
Place the rind in a large, airtight jar and pour the 95 per cent spirit over the top.
Leave in a cool, dark place for 14 days. The lemon skins will gradually release their oils, flavouring the spirit and staining it a deep golden colour.
After two weeks have passed, your lemon-infused spirit will look exactly like pee. Delicious!
Strain the lemon rinds out and discard.
Heat the water in a large saucepan then add the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Leave the sugar syrup to completely cool.
Once cooled, add the sugar syrup to the lemon-infused spirit. It will immediately turn a far-less-scary cloudy yellow colour. No more pee drinking necessary.
Pour into several clean and airtight bottles or a large jar.
You can drink the limoncello immediately, but it’s much better if you wait a couple of days to let the flavours really settle. Then, go your hardest.
Limoncello will keep for months, possibly even years, though the intensity will wane with age.
A massive thanks to The Italian for sharing his family recipe.
And one final note – you’ll obviously be left with 11 lemons full of perfectly good juice. Beware. This is how lemon curd tart obsessions begin. Pisco sour cocktails are also very nice.