As promised, here is the limoncello recipe for unbelievably delicious homemade limoncello made with fresh lemons. This is something that I make every single year now that I live in Napa.
It was pretty totally incredible, but the first house we rented here had these two huge and gorgeous citrus trees right in the backyard – one tree with lemons and one orange tree, filled far higher than we could reach even on a ladder with giant and flavorful citrus. For a Minnesota girl, that was a dream come true.
What's the best way to preserve lemons? Vodka, of course! Click To Tweet
We had decided to move to Napa because my wonderful boyfriend was offered a job here, which he definitely wanted. He was living in Oakland at the time, and I was still in San Francisco, and he gathered up the courage (okay. Pretty much all I would talk about after he was offered the job was how much I had always dreamed of living in Napa. I can’t imagine he thought for a single second I might say no; I practically strong-armed him) and asked me to move with him.
At the time, he was in a one bedroom apartment in Oakland with his two wire-haired dachshunds, right on street level in a nice and trendy neighborhood. I, on the other hand, was sharing a studio apartment (Murphy bed and all!) with two cats smack dab in the middle of the Tendernob (or Loin Hill, as I liked to refer to it. It was the area where a very bad neighborhood met a not-so-bad neighborhood). Working in kitchens comes with no small amount of drama, so I often let people stay in my little studio, sometimes short-term while escaping bad relationships or roommates, and once long-term, renting out my surprisingly large closet to another line cook. (The thinking was that he would end up with his own tiny room that way.) We were all working in a Michelin-starred restaurant and going out after work nearly every night (by going out, I mean of course, buying booze, putting it in paper bags, and hanging out on the street. We were line cooks, after all), so none of us were ever there except to sleep. Well, sleep as much as we could through the fantastically colorful calls of the transvestite prostitutes who ran my neighborhood (admirably well. I’ve never felt safer!) and the homeless/transient and the escaped, recently-run-away-to-San-Francisco youth. I lived above a youth shelter, and for a while, directly below my window over the back alley, we had a fantastic gentleman living on the street who had a tiny dog, constantly in need of discipline, named “Little Baby Jesus.”
It was awesome, but Napa was calling!
So now we were looking for a place in or near Napa. Not just any place, but one that allowed two cats and two dogs! That was a tall order. We looked at apartments, but there was nothing for two people plus a zoo. Just as we were starting to feel like there was nothing out there for us, Mom found an ad for a small house right in Napa with a fenced yard. It was fate! Destiny! The house was tiny, but it was our first house and we didn’t care. It was bigger than an apartment by far! The yard, however, was big! And fenced in with tall redwood fences. It was filled with sun and the perfect place to grow vegetables. Right there at the far end were the citrus trees filled with lemons and oranges, and so began my yearly process of preserving citrus every winter for the rest of the year.
What’s the best way to preserve lemons? Vodka, of course!!!
The most important decision having been made, it was time to figure out the absolute best limoncello recipe. Now, the way I do this is pretty silly and not the way you have to do it. I let mine sit for an entire year. You can leave it for a couple of weeks if you want! 30-40 days at each phase is seriously tasty. However, I’ve found that letting the limoncello process, hang out, and think its limoncello-y deep thoughts over the space of a year causes the flavor to mellow and become this incredibly unique and round thing that I have yet to find anywhere else. From the lemons on our first trees, these notes of thyme and rosemary developed, and there is just nothing else like it in the world. We had to move this year, so that flavor won’t happen again. I can’t wait to discover what happens with the lemons we gathered at my parent’s house! Here at our new place, we planted a little lemon tree and were also gifted a small tree from some friends who were moving to South Carolina, but we’ll have to wait for years to get a large harvest of lemons from either of those.
Because mine sits for a year, I’m able to show you all of the process of this limoncello recipe complete with pictures. While starting this year’s batch, I had some that I was moving into the second step, plus a bottle from my previous batch to include in the pics! Most people only let their limoncello sit for a couple of weeks before draining it, and then not much longer on the final step. It’s totally up to you! A longer time means a mellower, rounder flavor. A shorter time means you get to drink limoncello really soon! I can’t make that decision for you. This is your limoncello recipe.I can't make that decision for you. Click To Tweet
A couple of tips:
- When you zest the lemons, you only want the bright yellow part, not the white. (If you have a choice, look for lemons with nice bright yellow skin.) The only tool I’ve found that works really well for this is a Microplane, but if you want to use a knife or peeler, that’s fine. Just make sure you get rid of any white. If you buy them from a store, make sure you wash them really well first. Most of the time store lemons are covered with wax. Wax is not yummy.
- When you strain the zest from the vodka, using a coffee filter or two layers of paper towel will ensure a really clear limoncello. The filter will make sure any impurities are strained right out!
- When making the simple syrup for phase two, you can definitely just bring the sugar and water up to a boil and stir whenever you want and as much as you want. However, some of my best friends over the years have been bartenders (surprise!), and more than a few swear by not touching, stirring, or moving your simple syrup at all during the cooking process. There are a bunch of different ways to make simple syrup; you don’t even have to cook it if you don’t want to! You can just mix or shake the sugar and water together until all of the sugar is dissolved. I’m just passing on a technique that some bartenders believe to be the best, especially when what you want is a perfectly clear syrup.
- After you zest the lemons, squeeze all of the juice from the lemons, stick it in ice cube trays, and freeze it. (Move them to baggies if you want the trays back.) You’ll have fresh, seasonal lemon juice for months!
Liquid Sunshine: A Homemade Limoncello Recipe!!!
- 24 lemons
- 1.75 L high-proof vodka or Everclear
- 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic cane sugar, but it's not at all necessary)
- 5 cups of water
- Zest the lemons. You only want the bright yellow and none of the white! I've found that a microplane works best for this, but if you want to use a knife or vegetable peeler, just make sure that you get rid of all of the white.
- Place the zest in a large container, pour the vodka over, and leave alone and covered in a cool, dark place for anywhere from two weeks to one year, depending on the flavor you like and your patience!
- Bring the sugar and water to a boil, turn off, and cool. (I recommend stirring your sugar into the water before cooking it, and then not stirring it while it's heating up. Just for the sake of simple syrup clarity.)
- Line a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter or two paper towels.
- Gently ladle or pour the liquid from phase one through the filter. It's a slow process! Take your time! I don't recommend pressing on the solids, but only because you'll end up with a slightly cloudy limoncello, not because you'll make anything bad.
- Pour the cool simple syrup into the vodka mixture. Let sit for at least two weeks. Bottle, freeze, and enjoy!
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