Limoncello is a vibrantly colored digestif that goes down easy on a hot summer’s day. Although the sweet liqueur is most often served chilled in a shot glass, it is meant to be sipped slowly after your meal.
Although easy to make, limoncello has a complicated — and contested — history. Some people believe that Italian monks first made the spirit as early as the Middle Ages; others credit Southern Italian fishermen who were thought to drink it upon returning to shore to warm themselves and fight off colds. But most accounts attribute its creation to Maria Antonia Farace, who reportedly lived on a small island off Italy’s southern coast in the early 1900s. One of Farace’s descendants registered a small limoncello brand with Federvini, an Italian trade group, in 1988, using her original recipe.
You can use any kind of organic lemon to make your own limoncello. Note that the spirit needs to sit for at least two weeks before you indulge in a cool glass.
You can also experiment with other citrus fruits: By following the same process, you can make ’cellos from limes, grapefruits, oranges — the list goes on. Whatever you decide to use, you’ll have a lot of leftover peeled fruit, and that provides its own culinary opportunities. You could squeeze your lemons into a lemonade or stick with the Italian theme and make granita, a Sicilian water ice. Or try your hand at a baked good, like Melissa Clark’s Lemon Pound Cake.
The following recipe is one that my family, which hails from Palermo, has perfected for years, and is based on different formulas and notes taken by diligent relatives. Salute!