My upcoming book has 220 recipes. What you'll read below is the 221st—the one that didn't make it in.
Why did I not include limoncello in Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving? I'm not sure...deadlines? Exhaustion? Brain spasm? Hard to say. I kept thinking I would squeeze it in at the last minute, and then the last minute passed.
Which is a shame, because limoncello so easy to do—the quickest of the homemade cordials.
And every time I drink it, I think about the summer that I went to Capri with Samantha, and we hired a boat and swam off shore all day, and in the evening we dressed up in linen and nonchalance, and we went out to eat beneath the lemon arbor at Da Paolino, surely the most magical restaurant in the world, and when dinner was over, we lingered until the waiters brought frosted bottles of limoncello to pour into tiny glasses. The drink was chemically yellow and thick with cold and bright to the tongue, a reminder not to fall asleep yet, not when there's more pleasure in the night.
Made with Italian femminello lemons, sometimes available locally from Mud Creek at the Santa Monica and Hollywood Farmers Markets, this limoncello is equal to anything in Italy. The more familiar Eureka lemon will also work, as will California's favorite Meyer lemon.
2 pounds lemons
1 750 ml bottle Everclear (151 proof grain spirits)
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
1) Wash the lemons in cold water, and if using store-bought fruit, scrub it in very hot water to remove the wax. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outermost yellow zest as thinly as possible, leaving behind every bit of the bitter white pith, the albedo.
2) Put the zest in a one-gallon glass jar and cover with the Everclear. Close the jar and set aside for at least one week, or as much as a month. Once the alcohol has become intensely yellow, discard the zest—it will be pale and strangely brittle—and strain the alcohol through a fine-mesh sieve or a damp jelly bag.
3) Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and heat just enough to dissolve the sugar completely. Allow the syrup to cool all the way to room temperature, then add it to the alcohol. Stir to combine. Funnel the cordial into bottles if you like, and age it in the cellar for a couple of months if you can wait. Or else just put it in the freezer and start drinking it as soon as it's cold.
Yields about 2 1/2 quarts