Limoncello is an old, traditional, Italian lemon liqueurLimoncello is an old, traditional, Italian lemon liqueur made by infusing vodka, grappa or some other hard liquor with lemons or lemon peel. It got some notoriety in the States recently by the excesses of Danny DeVito and Avril Lavigne but it has been enjoyed as an end-of-meal refresher and pick-me-up for centuries.

Limoncello is available commercially. Even Danny DeVito is marketing his own brand after appearing on The View with a Limoncello buzz. My experience with the commercially available stuff, and I've tried quite a few, is that it's usually way too sweet and way too yellow. You can't get that much color just from lemons so it makes me wonder where the color comes from.

And anyway… it's supposed to be made at home and each family should develop their own recipe and here in SoCal, where every street has am overproducing  lemon tree, it's a shame to let all that lemony goodness go to waste. So here's my take on Cytrynówka - it's what we call a Limoncello style Nalewka back in Poland.

First get some lemons. I picked 2 pounds in my backyard from my Meyer's lemon tree. I could've gone and gotten some from my next door neighbor or from the lemon tree, in a neighbor's yard, at the end of my street. The point is, if you live in SoCal there are lemons trees, orange trees and all kinds of citrus trees everywhere and they all can be used to make Nalewkas.

So here is what you will need:

  • 2 pounds of lemons
  • 2 liters of vodka
  • 1 pound of sugar
  • A few sprigs of Basil (I used African Blue basil because it's a perennial and that's what I have in the yard this time of the year.)
ingredience The first step to your own Limencello or Cytrynówka. Sun your vodka and syrup for 48 hours.
All you need for a Limoncello. The first step to your own Limencello or Cytrynówka. Sun your vodka and syrup for 48 hours.

You have to decide on the flavor YOU want. Even with the same ingredients you can get a lot of variation in the final product. It works out to zest + pith + juice + sugar = flavor. I decided I wanted a lot of lemony zest, I like a fair amount of bitter from the pith, lots of lemon taste from the juice and I don't like it too sweet. You might decide that all you want is the zest and vodka or just the juice, vodka and sugar - always remember that it's all about you. One day I would like to go to somebody's house and taste a Cytrynówka that will surprise me.

This is what I did to get the Limoncello I wanted.

Of the 2 lbs of lemons I peeled the zest (just the yellow part of the skin) off off 4 lemons. I used a potato peeler. Works great. I put the zest with the sprigs of Basil in a Mason jar and poured in the 2 liters of vodka. Close tight, shake and stir, put in a sunny location, first part done.

Now I peeled the pith off the first 4 lemons and sliced them up removing the seeds. The rest of the lemons I sliced up skin, pith and all but no seeds. I layered my sliced lemons with the pound of sugar in another Mason jar. Close tightly and put in a sunny location, maybe next to the jar with the vodka and peel so that they can build a relationship.

Leave the jars out for 48 hours. The vodka will turn a lovely yellowee color and the sugar will suck the juice from the lemons.

After 48 hours you are ready for stage 2. After sraining out the lemon peel it's worth a taste. Bring the lemons and sugar to a boil.
After 48 hours you are ready for stage 2. After sraining out the lemon peel it's worth a taste. Bring the lemons and sugar to a boil.

Strain or remove the lemon zest from the vodka. Taste the vodka. This, all by it's self, is a lovely drink and a great cocktail mixer. It's not what we are going for this time but good to know about and remember - just another variation on the Limoncello theme.

Put the contents of the other Mason jar into a large pot. You will notice that the sugar is all but dissolved and it has pulled a lot of liquid out of the lemons. Slowly heat the lemons and sugar to a gentle boil stirring occasionally. Low heat is essential because you don't want to caramelize or burn the sugar. Boil for a few minutes, just long enough to dissolve all the sugar and get some more of the lovely lemony flavor out of your lemons. Turn off the heat and give it a few minutes to stop bubbling. Strain the hot syrup into the Mason jar with the lemon zest vodka. Give the lemons a squeeze with a wooden spoon to get some more of the juice out. Remember, they are still hot, so, be careful. Lock the jar tight and put in a sunny place for about 2 weeks.

After 2 weeks you should filter and bottle.

Filtering Nalewkas is a nagging subject and I've been trying to develop a procedure for some time now. Back in the old days they would use layers of linen cloth or just forego filtering all together and solve the issue of the sediments by decanting. I ran an experiment with this batch of Limoncello. Half of it I strained through a gold coffee filter, than through my Britta water filter and lastly through a paper coffee filter. Takes a long time but gives excellent results.

No filtering, just straining, full filtered product. Filtering through the Britta. Frosty, viscous, refreshing and delectable.
No filtering, just straining, full filtered product. Filtering through the Britta. Frosty, viscous, refreshing and delectable.

The other half I filtered and strained through a linen dish towel, folded in four to give me four layers, laid over a strainer. I did this four times, rinsing the towel after each time. This took less time and gave a comparable result. I think this is going to be my standard procedure from now on. Heres to the old time methods.

The Limoncello/Cytrynówka is ready for consumption right after filtering but, as with all infusions, will improve with age. The traditional way of consumptions is to freeze it. If your Nalewka does not have enough alcohol in it, it will form ice crystals. This can happen if your lemons are particularly juicy or you give them a really big squeeze. It's really not much of an issue and I had to deal with it in this batch. I poured all the Nalewka back into the Mason jar and added an extra ½ a liter of vodka. Mixed, rebottled and tested. That did the trick this time around.

Straight out of the freezer it's a frosty, viscous, refreshing and delectable after dinner treat - Na zdrowie! and Chin-chin!

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