It's impossible to go to the Amalfi Coast or the Sorrento peninsula without seeing lemons and lemon products everywhere. There are terraced lemon groves carved into virtually every steep mountainside--you'll know the lemon groves by their dark netting hung over them. This helps to prevent frost damage in winter and sun scald in summer. Most Sorrento and Amalfi than lemons are larger than what we Americans are used to, but you will also see grotesque shaped lemons and absolutely gargantuan lemons, nearly the the size of a football. There are highly acidic varieties along with some so low in acid and sweet that you can eat them as fruit. All lemons coming from Amalfi must be certified as being from the sfusato family of lemons (sfusato means spindle, describing the lemons' wool spindle shape).
When you get to Amalfi and Sorrento there will be no shortage of lemon products... scented soaps, flavored honeys, lemon olive oil, perfumes, body wash, hard candy, marmalade, sodas, and of course, the famous Limoncello, a lemony drink that is even made in a lot of households around Amalfi--each having their own "secret" family recipe. As popular as Limoncello is, we didn't like the few we sampled as being very high proof and overpowering, reminding me of Grappa. A less alcoholic, (at around 16% alcohol) creamier version also exists, known as Crema di Limoncello, but we haven't tried it ourselves. Surprisingly, the drink came into being only about 100 years ago. It is made by combining lemon peels (the zest without the pith) with grain alcohol and letting the mixture steep for a month or more. Combining with a sugar syrup finishes the concoction.
And surely you will find the local cuisine takes full advantage of lemons... flavoring fish dishes, chicken, cakes, pastries, and custards Lemons can flavor ricotta drizzled with honey and zest will be found on top of ravioli. Mozzarella is smoked between lemon leaves. There are a multitude of lemon themed products as well... ceramic plates and tiles, tableware, aprons, T-shirts, face creams, napkins, glassware, clothing... the list goes on.
10-12 organic lemons (you'll use the skins)
1 quart pure grain alcohol (or Vodka)
2 quarts water
3 cups of sugar
- Rinse and dry the lemons. Peel the lemons with a sharp knife or lemon zester, being careful to use only the yellow part of the peel... the white part will make your limoncello bitter.
- Place the lemon zest in a glass container, add the alcohol, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Hide it in a cool dark place for a month. Remember to check on it now and then and give the jar a little shake to distribute the lemon oil through the alcohol; after only a few days it will already take on a yellow color.
- After the month is up, make the syrup: bring the 2 liters of water to a simmer in a large pot, and pour in the sugar. Stir to completely dissolve. Set aside to completely cool.
- Strain the alcohol & lemon peel mixture through a fine sieve. Strain the alcohol liquid again through a paper towel or coffee filter over a funnel.In a large glass container, mix the cool sugar syrup with the alcohol.
- Put the jar of limoncello back in its cool dark hiding place for at least a week and up to another month (if you want the authentic stuff, then YES, another month).
- If the mixture is cloudy, you will need to filter it again. Then taste the limoncello. If it seems right, then it's ready to be bottled (if not, add more sugar syrup to taste.)
- Pour the limoncello into smaller bottles and keep one in the freezer for drinking, while the others can be stashed away for gifts.
- Limoncello seems to mellow as it ages, so the longer you keep it the better it gets.
There you have it... enjoy, and cent'anno! --Jerry Finzi
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