Thursday, August 14, 2008
Loving Lemon Pledge
The veneer between persuasive and pushy is both thin and permeable. On good hair days, when the back cowlick of my crown does not resemble Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, I fancy myself “persuasive”…but I do harbor a tendency to foist limoncello onto unsuspecting guests.
I introduce limoncello as highbrow, haute, and an acquired taste for an advanced palate. “Some believe limoncello tastes like lemon Pledge” I’ll condescendingly dismiss, “when it’s actually the nectar of the Sorrentine Peninsula, using the most choice Amalfi lemons.” (Some acquired tastes just need a little push toward the summit of appreciation).
Upon first imbibing, limoncello frequently meets with sour expressions. However, the “lemon pledge effect” wears off after 10 minutes or so, and I notice that deniers usually pour themselves a second splash: I’ve won another patron over to the cause.
For those who are unfamiliar, limoncello is an Italian liqueur that hails from coastal Italy, often Sicily, easily recognized from its arresting neon color and cloudy opacity. Served freezer-chilled in cordial glasses, the dense thickness coats the palate with a robust wallop of lemon flavor. And while I usually engineer the liqueur’s image as “delicacy,” the truth is somewhere closer to “bathtub punch” because of its simple list of ingredients and rustic production process. However, store-bought ‘cello tends to be too syrupy and a little waxy, so I thought I’d try my hand at Italian moonshine.
1 fifth of high-proof vodka or grappa
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 bottles (or mason jars)
Peel the zest of all six lemons with a peeler or a box grater, ensuring that you skim only the skin and leave behind the bitter pith. Purists will use Sorrento or Eureka lemons—in our liberal arts version, we used lemons. From a plastic-mesh bag.
Go ahead and add the zest to the high-proof vodka—I used 100 proof Smirnoff—which will draw more of the lemon oil from the rind.
I’ll let Charles Perry from the LA Times do the math for you:
“Using 100-proof Smirnoff 57, the usual recipe will give you a limoncello with the same alcoholic content as commercial varieties: 60 proof. If you use the more common 80-proof vodka, on the other hand, you'll have to steep the peels longer to get as much flavor out of them, and the recipe will give you a 50-proof limoncello.”
Close that mason jar or bottle and leave it out, at room temperature, for a week. (I gave it a little hustle routine about once a day to mix it up.)
Drain the lemon peels from the infused vodka, which should have a deep yellow color at this point. (Note: if you are not using a mason jar, have another receptacle ready for the last step—those lemon peels cling to their former home, and do not easily extract themselves from inside the bottle.)
Stir the sugar and water together over low heat to create the simple syrup, and reduce by half. Let the syrup cool to room temperature.
Pour the simple syrup and lemon infused vodka back into the mason jar or bottle, careful not to fill it to the brim, and stick it in the freezer. The liquid should grow cloudy after 8-9 hours in the ice box, but I left it there for another 4 days.
The result: a far more buoyant, crisp flavor than store-bought ‘cello, and a use for my beloved, physically-challenged cordial glasses.
You can also use different citrus fruit to customize your 'cello--I've seen limecello, orangecello, and I'm told tangelo, blood orange, and grapefruit all make zesty incarnations of this theme.
Photo credit: Shamballah