Limoncello is a classic Italian liqueur traditionally served ice cold as a digestive, after dinner. Frankly, I think it’s tasty enough to drink anytime. The recipe comes from southern Italy and calls for true lemons, but I like to use Meyer lemons instead. I’ve done some experimenting over the years and come up with two very different recipes that produce two very different liqueurs. If you try them both, please let me know which one you like better!
Both versions are vodka-based liqueurs, although you could use any neutral spirit as long as you keep the ABV (alcohol by volume) under 50%. Spirits that are more than 100 proof will overwhelm the flavor of the lemons.
The traditional method calls for using only the lemon zest. This is the fragrant, oily, yellow outer part of the lemon skin. The virtue of this traditional method is that you can use the lemon flesh and juice for another recipe. If you plan to do this, I suggest you zest the lemons first, then juice the lemons for whatever else you have in mind. It’s much harder to separate the zest from the bitter pith once the lemons have been juiced. The virtue of the non-traditional method is that it’s a lot less work, and who doesn’t appreciate a time-saving recipe. In both methods, make sure your lemons are good and clean!
How to Make Traditional Limoncello
- Place the zest of 10 Meyer lemons, all white pith removed, in a screw top jar with four cups of vodka, close, shake, and store in a dark place for about two weeks (shaking the jar when you remember).
- Make a light syrup of 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar; let it cool.
- Strain the vodka off the zest and combine with the simple syrup.
- Pour the liquid through a coffee filter into bottles, seal, and store for two more weeks.
How to Make Limoncello the Lazy Way
- Fill a large screw top jar with quartered Meyer lemons (as many as you can fit in). Pour four cups of vodka over the lemons. Close the jar, shake, and store in a dark place for about two weeks (shaking the jar when you remember).
- Make a light syrup of 2 cups water and 1 cup sugar.
- Strain the lemons from the vodka and juice, and set the juice aside. Put the lemons in a sauce pan, with the simple syrup and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for five minutes, occasionally pressing on the lemons to release the last bit of juice. Remove from the heat, strain off the solids, and let the syrup cool, then combine with the vodka. Pour through a coffee filter into bottles, seal, and store for two weeks.
Whichever recipe you use, keep at least one bottle of finished limoncello in the freezer so it can be served ice cold without requiring actual ice, which would dilute the taste and silky texture of the beverage. The high alcohol content will prevent freezing.
Which one is better?
That, you’ll have to decide for yourself. The traditional method yields a prettier, more transparent beverage. The lazy method gives you a less spirit-forward flavor, and the pectin from the seeds and pith make it slightly more opaque. You can’t go wrong with either one because both are delicious: sweet, sour, and zingy.