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Classic Limoncello
Limoncello Baba'
 
For me, summers in Italy have always been about swimming in the turquoise waters of the Cinque Terre, dining beneath an ivy canopy in Fiesole, and sipping chilled limoncello with my friends and family while listening to the chirping of crickets. Drinking limoncello alone is pleasant enough, but sipping a glass of this bittersweet citrus liqueur around a table with loved ones becomes a memorably soothing experience.

This liqueur makes me nostalgic - conjuring up visions of my father preparing his own homemade limoncello, and, in the process, turning the kitchen upside down with lemon wedges and pots of alcohol and sugar everywhere. Most of all, I remember him proudly presenting his friends with his treasured creation in bottles hand-painted by my sister - and the endless pouring and laughter that followed.

Limoncello is a liqueur made from fermented lemons. Refreshing and light, it is usually enjoyed at the end of a meal: it is an incomparable digestive, and with tonic water it is a sweet, tasty refreshment. It's also great with champagne or mixed with juice as a cocktail. It even does well simply drizzled on ice cream, fruit salads (my father's favorite), or fresh strawberries.

No matter how you have it, limoncello should always be enjoyed cold. Originally a regional product of Southern Italy, where the best lemons were and are still grown, limoncello is now a national drink and can be found in stores and restaurants all over Italy. Restaurants often make their own version of it, and offer it to their favorite customers at the end of a meal. In fact, you don't need a professional distillery to make limoncello: it's very easy to prepare at home, requiring only a few ingredients and a bit of time.

The best limoncello comes from the island of Capri and the Amalfi coast. In Capri, lemons are cultivated biologically without chemical manures or other products, which makes them perfect for an old-fashioned natural recipe like limoncello. Amalfi lemons are unique. They have a strong scent, a juicy-sweet pulp, and very few seeds. The Amalfi coastline's terraced groves have the perfect soil for growing the finest quality lemons, which have a clean, fulsome taste that could never be called sour. Amalfi lemons emanate a harmony of aroma and taste, delighting the palate with their freshness and zest. These lemons have even come to be known as "bread," because they can easily be enjoyed in slices for a snack or dessert, with or without a spoonful of sugar. You can easily distinguish them from other lemons in markets because they are the only lemons picked with the stems on.

Legend has it that the origins of this beverage lay in the well-known homemade "rosoli" drinks (liqueurs made from fermented spices, aromatic plants, and fruits), which were developed in convents. By the beginning of the 17th century, the nuns of the Santa Rosa convent in Conca dei Marini were preparing a famous lemon pastry dish ("sfogliatella Santa Rosa") whose authentic taste came from a lemon liqueur. Following the time-tested success of limoncello, other citrus liqueurs, like delicate Mandarinello (from mandarins) and tangy Arancello (from oranges), are becoming popular digestives. Another alternative to the original limoncello recipe is Cream of Limoncello, which is made with ultra pasteurized milk instead of water. The outcome is a cream liqueur that is sweeter, thicker, and paler than the original.

Italians' love for limoncello has spread far beyond the confines of Italy. Here in New York, most Italian restaurants serve imported limoncello to their Italian clientele, both as an after dinner treat and as a palate cleanser. Limoncello is also available at gourmet specialty stores like Balducci's and Dean and Deluca. If you can't find it in stores near you, you can always make your own and have a taste of summer.

--- Elisabetta Bucci

 

 

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