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Have Your Limoncello And Eat It, Too

I don't preserve. I don't do canning. I have never made a jelly or a jam. I make limoncello. Actually, I assist my dad, who makes limoncello. Then, much to my benefit, I distribute it to friends and potential business partners.

Limoncello (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) is an Italian lemon liqueur known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol, sugar and patience.

Although traditionally served as a digestive, or after-dinner drink that aids in digestion, limoncello can be enjoyed at other times of the day, particularly in a cocktail. But don't just drink it. Eat it. Limoncello can be a wonderful ingredient in cooking and baking.

Although traditionally served as a digestive, or after-dinner drink that aids in digestion, limoncello can be enjoyed at other times of the day, particularly in a cocktail. But don't just drink it. Eat it. Limoncello can be a wonderful ingredient in cooking and baking.

Limoncello's origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks, while others say nuns. Some credit wealthy Amalfi Coast families, while others credit local townswomen.

The most convincing story is that of Vincenza Canale, an innkeeper on the isle of Capri who, in the late 19th century, began serving the heady lemon liqueur to weary travelers. Apparently, these satisfied travelers spread the word about Canale's distinctive drink, and its popularity grew.

It wasn't until 1988 that Canale's family registered the first trademark for limoncello. Today they produce "Limoncello di Capri," which is considered to be among the finest limoncellos available.

Limoncello has its roots in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy's Amalfi Coast and Sorrentine Peninsula, known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons, prized for their brilliant yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid, are considered the finest lemons for limoncello.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of using Italian lemons. But with good store-bought lemons and alcohol, you can make a delicious limoncello wherever you live.

For limoncello, select brightly colored, unblemished and preferably aromatic lemons, which indicate freshness and a high degree of essential oils in the rind. Use grain alcohol (a potent, pure alcohol, made from fermenting and distilling grain) such as Everclear, 75.5 percent alcohol, 151 proof. If you prefer vodka, use 100 proof, which will ensure that it won't turn into ice in the freezer.

Peel the lemons carefully. You want the rinds only, no sour pith or pulp. There are many opinions on how long to soak the rinds. Most traditional recipes call for an 80-day soak. My family's recipe indicates a range from as short as 48 hours to as long as one week. Because limoncello's color comes from the rinds, the longer they soak, the deeper the color will be. That's why limoncello can range from pale to canary yellow.

When the soak is complete, the rinds are discarded, and the lemon-infused alcohol is combined with water and sugar. Creamy limoncello, which is featured here, is made with milk. The final product is bottled and placed in the freezer.

When serving limoncello, always pour it straight from the freezer, and preferably in chilled cordial or shot glasses. The colder the limoncello, the better the flavor. Like a romantic evening, limoncello should be savored slowly. Yet, because it tastes like a spiked, chilled creamy lemonade, limoncello can go down easily. Be careful. Despite its seeming innocence, it packs a punch.

While limoncello is an old, beloved drink in Italy, it's a relative newcomer to the States. Though we Americans often mispronounce the drink as "lemon-chello," our affection for it continues to grow. Chefs and bartenders across the U.S increasingly use it to create innovative desserts and cocktails, while more and more folks at home are making their own, often from a cherished family recipe.

A frosty glass of sweet and tangy creamy limoncello is delicious on its own, but don't stop there. Combine it with champagne or sparkling water for a refreshing summertime cooler, or experiment with cocktails when you're looking to add citrus flavor to a drink without a lot of acidity.

Limoncello is a natural companion to many classic Italian desserts, such as panna cotta, tiramisu and ricotta pie. It can also be added to these recipes for a nice twist. For simple yet sublime dishes, pour chilled limoncello over fresh fruit, gelato or pound cake. Whisk it into ricotta or mascarpone cheese and serve it alongside grilled fruit or rustic cakes. Limoncello also makes a zippy icing for treats such as ricotta cookies or polenta cake. As for savory dishes, it can be drizzled on salads and seafood, such as grilled shrimp, or added to marinades and sauces.

So if you're a friend of mine -- that is, a real-life friend, not Facebook friend -- then don't bother to make this limoncello recipe. I'm sure I already have a bottle with your name on it in my freezer. If you're not a friend, I'm afraid you'll have to make it yourself, which actually might be a great benefit to you if you're looking to build your own relationships.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Russo
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