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Published May 21, 2013, 11:55 PM

Lost Italian: Homemade limoncello can brighten your summer

The Amalfi Coast, located in the Campania region of southern Italy, is home to some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in the world. Cities and towns from centuries ago are magically tucked into the cliffside, defying gravity. A popular destination for tourists, this area is also known for its production of lemons, and is the birthplace of one of our favorite liqueurs, limoncello.

By: By Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

The Amalfi Coast, located in the Campania region of southern Italy, is home to some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in the world. Cities and towns from centuries ago are magically tucked into the cliffside, defying gravity. A popular destination for tourists, this area is also known for its production of lemons, and is the birthplace of one of our favorite liqueurs, limoncello.

In 1999, Tony and I were working for Clipper Cruise Line aboard the M/V Clipper Adventurer, which took us to ports all around the world. One of our favorite destinations was Sorrento, a town dramatically perched along the sea cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.

There are many sights to see around Sorrento, and we offered a terrific variety of tours for our passengers. As the cruise director, this was a particularly busy day for me to coordinate: ferries to the isle of Capri, private boats to Positano, guided tours to Pompeii, motor scooter (Vespa) rentals, bike tours, a motor coach to the National Museum in Naples, scenic coastal drives with private cars and drivers, wine tastings and more.

Our ship was docked at the bottom of the cliffs, and we operated bus shuttles up to the town throughout the day. I can think of no better place to spend a busy day expediting passengers than Sorrento.

With tours and private arrangements leaving at all times throughout the morning, it was mid-afternoon before I could take a break. I was stationed at the Piazza Tasso, which was abuzz with the hum of commerce and endless Vespa traffic. But, with the sun shining brightly, and the beauty of the buildings around me, the noise only added to the charm of this special place.

The Piazza Tasso is surrounded by great restaurants, and I picked the one closest to me for a late lunch. I was guided to a table for one on the outside terrace and ordered the Penne Arrabbiata (best of my life!), but declined my friendly waiter’s recommended wine pairing as I was still on duty.

I finished my pasta, paid my bill and was about to leave when my waiter brought me a small, chilled glass of limoncello. “Signora,” he said, gesturing emphatically. “You cannot visit Sorrento without trying our limoncello. Please, enjoy with our compliments.” Not wishing to offend him, I happily accepted, and instantly felt as if I was sipping sunshine.

Sweet, bright and bracing, this citrus cordial is traditionally served chilled after a meal, as a “digestivo” to aid in digestion. A glass of limoncello can transport Tony and me straight back to Sorrento, even in the depths of a Fargo winter. In fact, it was one of those bleak winters just a few years ago during which my mother and I were inspired to make our own limoncello.

Limoncello is made from lemon zest, which is steeped for 10 to 40 days in vodka or grain alcohol. The next step is to strain the liquid through a cheesecloth or coffee filter, add a simple syrup of sugar and water, and a second bottle of alcohol. Let it sit for another 10 to 40 days before it’s ready to serve. The hardest part about making limoncello is the waiting, but if you have the patience, the results are well worth it. Keep the finished liqueur in the freezer, as it is best when served very cold.

If you start a batch this Memorial Day weekend and allow about 14 days for each step, you’ll have your very own limoncello ready to enjoy by the Fourth of July.

Limoncello

Ingredients:

15 medium lemons

2 750-milliliter bottles of 100-proof vodka (the higher proof will keep the alcohol from freezing)

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Equipment:

Microplane grater or vegetable peeler

1 one-gallon glass (Mason) jar

Cheesecloth

Funnel

Bottles for storing finished liqueur

Directions:

Soak the lemons in warm water for 10 minutes to clean, then wipe dry with a towel. Use the grater or vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemons, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith. Set the zested lemons aside for use in another recipe.

Place the zest in the Mason jar and add one bottle of vodka. Seal tightly, label with today’s date and the words “First Stage.” Store in a cupboard and allow the mixture to steep for 10 to 40 days. The longer it steeps, the better it will taste.

After 10 to 40 days, strain the mixture through a double layer of cheesecloth into a large bowl, gently pressing the zest to extract all the flavored liquid. (You may need to strain more than once to remove all the zest.) Add the second bottle of vodka.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Remove from heat.

Once cooled, add the syrup to the vodka mixture. Use a funnel to pour the liqueur back into the Mason jar. Have another, smaller jar on hand in case of overflow. Label the jar with today’s date or the date it will be ready to serve, and the words “Second Stage.” Return to the cupboard for 10 to 40 days.

When the limoncello is ready, store it in the freezer so it is always chilled before serving.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

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