A bicchierino is de rigueur after hosting a meal with guests or at important celebrations or events like weddings and funerals. Before the wide distribution and consumption of commercial liquors, the host prided themselves on his or her liquor making talents. Recipes varied from family to family but were consistent in their basic ingredients: alcohol, water, sugar, and the essence of either fruit, herbs, or coffee - and even nuts! After particularly abundant meals, I remember a variety of homemade liquors being brought to the table - each to serve a particular guest's palate. They were often served in beautiful crystal decanters or rustic, thick glass bottles.
Small, local restaurants often bring these homemade liquors to the table free of charge to allow guests to relax and digest at their own happy pace. You can do the same! Think of how impressed your next dinner guests will be when you ofter them a small glass of your special homemade liquor!
We have an uncle who is particularly enthusiastic about maintaining this tradition. He favors liquors of the citrus variety and has perfected both his lemon and mandarin beverages. We love limoncello (lemon liquor) too, with its sweet, syrupy and fresh flavor. Making your own is quite easy to do. All you need are a few basic ingredients and some time - at least a week to allow the flavors to blend seamlessly together - so plan ahead. The classic limoncello recipe requires two months to prepare, so we are giving you a quicker version in case you can't wait that long.
Below is the basic recipe. If you're not a fan of lemons, you can substitute other citrus fruits like oranges or mandarins. The technique remains the same.
N.B. The juice from the lemons is not used when making limoncello. Therefore, we suggest squeezing the juice out once you've peeled the lemons and freezing it for later use so as not to waste any.
We also prefer using organic lemons with thick, aromatic skins for the simple reason that the peel is used. In fact, we make our limoncello with all organic ingredients! If you can't find organic lemons, make sure you wash your lemons well before use! The Sorrento variety is used in Italy because its thick peel is rich in essential oils.
7 large lemons
750mL bottle of 100 proof vodka
2 1/2 c. sugar (also preferably organic)
3 c. filtered water
Peel the rind of the lemons in strips being careful to leave the white part of the lemon (pith) behind due to its bitter taste. We suggest using a vegetable peeler. Use a small knife to remove any pith you may have accidentally collected. Place the lemon rinds and vodka together in a large glass jar (or equally in multiple jars) and close tightly. Alternatively you can put the mixture in a large jug and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set it aside for 6 to 7 days in a cool, dry place.* Do not refrigerate. You'll see the alcohol slowly turn yellow as the peels themselves turn whiter.
In a large saucepan over medium heat mix the sugar and water for about 5 minutes or so or until the sugar is entirely dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely. Stir in the lemon and vodka mixture. Cover the saucepan and let it sit overnight at room temperature.**
Strain the mixture to remove the lemon peels (discard the peels) and pour into bottles. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. May even be frozen for an extra cool drink.Serve cold.
* This is where the classic recipe requires a month of time to allow the lemon rind to give its flavor to the alcohol. If you can afford the time, we highly recommend you do it.
** Here the classic recipe requires at least another 4 to 6 weeks of allowing the mixture to sit in a cool, dry, and preferably dark place such as a pantry. If you decide to wait this long, we suggest pouring the mixture into a jar or bottle you can tightly seal.