It's warmer weather and I'm feeling nostalgic for all things Italian and Spoleto. This time last year, we were hoping and wondering if a Spoleto trip was going to happen for the summer. By Memorial Day, or within a few days after, we got the great news, Donald Nally's American Chorus was invited to the Spoleto Festival. Liz was very busy helping to plan the trip, get folks lined up for the chorus, and I just got to tag along and enjoy every exciting moment leading up to and during the three glorious weeks we spent from June 24rd to July 12th in Italy. What's this got to do with my post and photo? A lot! Besides the indulging in so many fantastic Italian meals, gelato's, espressos, pastries, and wines, there were a few aperitifs that are also quintessentially Italian - Limoncello. It is sinfully easy to make on your own, and no trattoria, osteria, ristorante or train stazionne is without their own homemade bottle. One night this past February we dined at one of our favorite South Philadelphia Italian Restaurants, Paradiso, on Passyunk Avenue. At the end of the meal, the owner bought us a round of limoncellos, prompting sighs and remembrances of summers past. It also inspired me to make my own batch, which is what is in the photograph. Not a science specimen jar full of alien worm creatures, but a batch of 100 proof vodka and the peels from about 10 Meyer Lemons. It takes about a week to infuse the vodka with the lemon essence. The vodka begins to turn yellow within a few hours. After a week, the vodka is fully infused and you're ready to mix it with a simple syrup and begin enjoying a causal sip whenever you desire. I made a lot of limoncello, and actually, while it is good, it's really strong. I've had the jar in the refrigerator since February and have only now just begun to enjoy it. What finally prompted me to break out the bottle was having a guest over to dinner this past weekend. Realizing that the limoncello was too powerful, I thought about another way to serve it and tame its bitter punch. I thought about a cocktail I could make that would be tasty and not too sweet. Mint came to mind, I have a lot growing wild in my garden. Mint and lemon is a beautiful combination and voila! An Italian version of a Mojito was born. The mint, some additional fresh lemon peel and juice, a touch of sugar and a splash of seltzer water is the perfect balance of bitter, sweet and sour all at once. Here are the recipes for making your own batch of lemon sunshine and my version of a Lemon and Mint Mojito.
For the Limoncello:
- Step 1 Ingredients:
- 1 - 750 ml Bottle 100 Proof Vodka or Evercleer (which is harder to find in Pennsylvania)
- 10 - 15 Lemons - unblemished, free of dyes, wax or pesticides
- 1 large Glass Bottle or Jar that can hold 8 Cups of Liquid - scrupulously washed and dried
Step 2 Ingredients
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Sauce Pan
- Wash and pat dry the lemons.
- Peel the lemons with a very sharp paring knife or a good vegetable peeler. Try to get only the yellow skins of the lemons and not any of the white pith underneath the surface. Use the whole lemons for another use, or juice them and freeze the lemon juice.
- Put all the lemon peels in the glass jar.
- Cover the lemon peels with 100 proof vodka or if you are able to find it, Evercleer (Moonshine/Grain Alcohol). Feel free to use an inexpensive vodka, as you will be infusing it with lemon oils and sweetening it with sugar. There really is no need to spend big bucks on a bottle of Stoly, Absolute, Grey Goose or Belevdeer. I looked into to this a great deal, and almost all the recipes I found used the cheapest vodka! I compromised, and bought Smirnoff, which has been taste rated higher than the popular expensive brands. Plus, it was easier to find 100 proof Smirnoff than any other brand at the PA State Stores.
- Seal, close and store the jar of vodka and lemon peels in a cool, dark, dry place - such as a cabinet away from any heat sources.
- Let the vodka sit for at least one week or up to 3 months.
- Occasionally check on the bottle, and give it a shake from time to time. The vodka will begin to turn yellow from the oils in the lemon peels within a few hours. Honestly, the vodka will be sufficiently infused within 10 days. However, some folks like to let it sit for months. It's entirely up to you!
Step 2 - Making the Limoncello Sweet and Ready to Drink:
- Once the vodka has infused with the lemon peels essence, it's time to strain out the peels and add in some sugar.
- Use a fine mesh strainer and carefully strain out the lemon peels, pouring the vodka into a clean container. Press on the lemon peels to extract all of the liquid. At this point the lemon peels have given up all of their oils and essence. You can either throw them away, or reserve them for another use - such as finely mincing them or pureeing them in a food processor with sugar and using the limoncello sugar in a cake, ice cream, sorbet or other dessert recipe.
- In a small sauce pan, add one cup of sugar and one cup of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Swirl the pan a little and let the sugar dissolve completely in the water. Do not boil! Once the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat and let this mixture cool. This is your simple sugar syrup.
- After the simple syrup has completely cooled, you can add it to the vodka. Pour the vodka into clean glass jars and shake to combine the syrup. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. Enjoy the limoncello icy cold, straight up or in my version of a Mojito.
Italian Mint Limoncello Mojitos
- 1/4 Cup Mint Leaves- loosely packed
- 1 Tablespoon Sugar
- Peels of 1 Medium Lemon - yellow only, no white pith
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- 1 Cup Limoncello
- Mint Springs for Garnish - optional
- Seltzer water - to top off drinks
- Cocktail Shaker with Strainer
- Wooden Spoon or Muddler
- 4 Martini, Champagne Glasses or Fluted Style Wine Glasses
- Add the mint leaves, sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker and muddle it with a mint muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. This helps to release the oils from the mint and lemon, and will also help the sugar to dissolve.
- Add enough ice to the shaker to fill it completely.
- Pour in the limoncello, close the shaker tightly and shake vigorously.
- Strain the cocktail into 4 glasses, filling each 1/4 to 1/2 way and top with seltzer water and a spring of mint. Serves 4.