The short but sweet season for Meyer lemons is on now.
Limoncello, the Italian digestivo typically served ice cold after a meal, is refreshing in


When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello

The short but sweet season for Meyer lemons is on now.
Limoncello, the Italian digestivo typically served ice cold after a meal, is refreshing in the summer, yet wintertime is the height of citrus season. If towering displays of citrus are tempting you at the grocery store, you can turn lemons into the tart, high-octane liqueur in just a few weeks. I checked in with limoncello experts this week for tips on buying, steeping, sweetening, and stirring up cocktails using now-in-season citrus.

Limoncello originated in southern Italy, and it was in Italy as a child that Skip Tognetti first got a taste for the strong stuff. Tognetti, owner of Letterpress Distilling, is slated to release the first limoncello made in Washington State in early spring. To make the perfect limoncello, he says it's about finding the right balance of tart and sweet, plus heat from the base spirit.

"There was definitely a lot of fooling around," Tognetti says of the work it took to create the perfect recipe. A big part of the challenge was finding the right type and quantity of sweetener to use. "The right sweetener should cool the heat of the booze without making it cloyingly sweet." He settled on a honey syrup, which he feels adds more roundness, depth and dimension to the finished product.

Organic lemons are also essential, according to Tognetti. He is currently sourcing them from a farm in northern California. I was curious to know what he did with all the lemons once they had been zested. It turns out he has a symbiotic relationship with his landlord, Sound Produce Co., where he leases space. Once the lemons have been zested, they take the rest of the fruit and extract the juice, which they can sell to other clients.

Letterpress Distilling will bottle around 200 cases of the limoncello for their first release, and then gauge demand from there. Tognetti prefers it served ice cold in a cordial glass. For him it's always sipped as an after dinner drink. It's a nostalgic flavor that perfectly punctuates the end of dinner.

I first sipped limoncello in a cocktail a few years ago at Volterra in Ballard, whose cocktail list was designed by chef, author and cocktail maven Kathy Casey. The Rosemary Lemon Drop is still on the menu at Volterra. It includes limoncello, vodka, lemon sour, and rosemary. Casey likes how the herb pairs with lemon. In her book Sips & Apps there are recipes for other cocktails using the tart liqueur, like the Citrus 75. It's a riff on a French 75, made with limoncello, gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup, topped with sparkling wine. You can watch Casey making the Citrus 75 and limoncello on the Liquid Kitchen channel on the Small Screen Network.

Casey's recipe for Limoncello (below) uses citrus vodka as its base. Many recipes call for high-octane vodka, but both Tognetti and Casey agree that 100-proof vodka is plenty. When I asked Casey what she thinks ais re the biggest mistake people make when making Limoncello, she said getting too much pith from the lemon. "Find a good potato peeler. Don't use a zester," she cautioned. Peel the citrus, and if you get any pith you can just lay each peel flat and scrape it away. Another tip, "Don't let it sit too long, it definitely has a shelf life."

Casey says don't limit yourself to limoncello, "There are plenty of other 'cellos you can make." Meyer lemons--a hybrid between a lemon and mandarin orange--are sweeter than a regular lemon and make a great 'cello. Casey also suggests trying a huckleberry or blueberry limoncello. You may just need to mash the berries a bit to extract the juice. Or try a mandarin orange-cello, perhaps adding a few drops of orange blossom water.

Dino Medica, the Produce Specialist at Metropolitan Market says he regularly stocks Eureka lemons, the most common variety. January-March is the best time for citrus, and they currently have Meyer lemons in stock too. The season for that large, thin-skinned citrus is short, so make your limoncello soon.

Housemade Limoncello

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups citrus vodka

3 lemons

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

With a potato peeler, peel the zest from the lemon, being sure not to get any white pith. Place the lemon peel in a clean 4-cup glass jar with lid. (Use the rest of the lemon for another purpose.)

Add the vodka. Cap the jars and shake well. Let sit at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jars every couple of days.

After 1 week, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 2 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.

Strain the vodka into a big bowl. Stir the cooled sugar syrup into the strained liquor. At this point, you can bottle your limoncello into fancy bottles or clean clear wine bottles. Cap tightly and store, at room temperature, for up to 2 months or, refrigerated, for 1 year.

Recipe by Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen™

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