Limoncello making party

To celebrate the completion of the first week of classes, we had the faculty members and their families over to make a big batch of limoncello for all to share. For those of you unfamiliar with limoncello, it is a powerful, super-tasty, Italian lemon liqueur. I have been making it for several years now. In fact, I like to think that the teachers in the Florence program get along with each other exceptionally well because I introduce limoncello into their lives early in the process. Everything is just much more cheerful with limoncello.

Everyone brought 6 lemons, a little cash to cover the cost of the alcohol, and an appetizer to share. We made a double batch. After the lemons have steeped in the alcohol for 3 weeks, we will have 4 liters of limoncello – one liter for each family.

Here is the recipe for limoncello:

  • 12 lemons
  • 1 litre grain alcohol, such as Everclear (available at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water

Zest the 12 lemons and put the zest into a clean, 1 liter glass bottle with a lid. Be careful not to get any of the white part of the peel of the lemon as it is bitter. When zesting the lemons, you want to only take the color off the outside. You can use a microplane grater, a vegetable peeler, or a citrus zester. Add the alcohol. Stir or shake it a bit to mix and leave it to steep for 3 weeks.

At the end of 3 weeks, the lemon zest will have given up all its flavor and color. Your alcohol will be yellow and the lemon zest will be pale, almost white. Strain the alcohol and throw away the zest. Combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water in a large saucepan on the stove. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. (This mixture is called simple syrup.) Let the syrup cool completely. Measure to make sure you have 1 liter of simple syrup. If you need more, it only takes a few minutes to make. Just use one part sugar to one part water.

Combine 1 liter lemon-steeped alcohol with 1 liter simple syrup. Pour into clean bottles. Serve very cold. Can be kept in the freezer or refrigerator. Because the alcohol content is so high, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but should be stored in a cool, dark place. They say it keeps for a very long time, but I wouldn’t know. Ours never lasts that long.

Here, Calla and I demonstrate zesting lemons:

While the adults zested lemons, the kids helped juice the lemons and we made lemonade. Calla is a champion lemon juicer. She juiced about half of the lemons (12) by herself.  In addition to the lemonade we made, everyone got to take home lemon juice for making lemon bars or lemon granita (an Italian frozen lemon dessert.) We ate bruschetta, olives, cheese, chocolate covered panetone, and heavenly chocolate mousse (made by Maria), with prosecco (sparkling wine) or lemonade to wash it down. It was an “eclectic” mix of foods, but everyone had a great time. Just look at this happy bunch.

We realized at the end of the evening that there was an olive pit floating in one of the two jars of lemon zest soaking in alcohol. We blame it on the two year old.

We figured the alcohol would easily kill all the germs, so it wasn’t a big deal. We also decided we would have to have a limoncello TASTING party to see if we could tell the difference in the two batches.

Tonight’s dessert

I just can’t seem to get away from the food theme.

Tonight we had leftover pasta al tartuffo (pasta with truffle cream sauce), salad and crostini, but the real highlight was dessert. We had Vin Santo and apricot biscotti, which was absolutely heavenly. Vin Santo (holy wine) is an amber colored fortified wine liqueur. The apricot biscotti were a little soft, which I greatly prefer to the super-hard ones we often find in the U.S. The biscotti is dipped in the Vin Santo before consuming. So delicious.