I remember the first time I tried limoncello. It was New Year’s Eve and I was 12, maybe 13. My mum is not a big drinker, but she always had a sip of something sweet to start the new year. My nonna poured her a glass of this bright yellow syrup. It was so thick, I thought it was honey and I dived for the glass. My first sip was sweet and cloying with a hint of bitterness. I was hooked. They couldn’t pry the glass out of my fingers!
The syrup was homemade limoncello. A classic Italian liquor that my nonni made with lemons from their own garden and stored it in small barrels. Those two are regular moonshiners. Even though they could find perfectly good wine by the barrel in Australia and never had the space for a vineyard, they always made their own red wine, grappa and super-proof liquors. They still do! Even in their 80s! But don’t go imagining bathtubs. When I was a kid we crushed the grapes with our feet in a huge barrel until my nonno upgraded to an almost-industrial winemaking machine.
Their wine is undrinkable. They mix it with lemonade and are perfectly happy, but no one else will touch it! Their limoncello on the other hand is incredible… and you don’t need your distillery to make it at home. All you need is time, a bottle of booze and a few lemons. Seriously, the limoncello ingredients are all stuff you have in your pantry.
This limoncello drink recipe is made with a mixture of ripe and unripe lemons. The green lemons in particular add a bitter, herbal note that’s similar to that grassy flavour you get in a good gin. In years past, my nonna has flavoured hers with a few fennel seeds to bump up the herbal back notes. I’ve even read of adding a vanilla pod to the mixture for a contrasting lusciousness.
When it comes to the liquor, you always want to use grappa because it has a clean, neutral flavour that elevates the zesty lemons. Vodka would work in a pinch if you can’t find grappa.
Your homemade limoncello will keep in the fridge forever. If you have space, you can also throw it in the freezer, so you always have a handy chilled shot on hand to mark those celebrations or after dinner drinks!
HOMEMADE LIMONCELLO RECIPE
4 cups grappa, or vodka 4 green lemons
4 yellow lemons
6 cups water
800g caster sugar
Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler. Place the peels in a jug, pour over the liquor, cover with plastic wrap and infuse for 4 days at room temperature.
Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Cool, then add to the lemon liquor. Cover and infuse for a further 4 days at room temperature.
Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer to sterilised bottles, seal and refrigerate. The limoncello will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.
Cheers! If you’re looking for a way to use your limoncello, try my butterscotch plums with limoncello custard!