After Homemade Limoncello, You'll Accept No Other

It's like eating lemon meringue pie at a lazy Sunday picnic.

Limoncello, the southern Italian after-dinner treat, is an invigorating refresher with an aroma and flavor unmatched by any citrus-flavored vodka or dessert wine. It's the sensory equivalent of eating lemon meringue pie on a lazy Sunday picnic in the middle of Paolo's lemon grove. It's a potion that gets you to stop and live in the sun-drenched moment, even when it's cloudy outside. The Luxardo brand that your state liquor store may carry is all fine and well, but once you've had homemade limoncello, you'll accept no other. This recipe is a monthlong project that yields huge rewards for just a little patience and hardly any work. (If you need additional motivation, visit Volterra, at 5411 Ballard Ave. N.W., for a shot of the silky house-made limoncello they use in their rosemary lemon drop.) Don't be a grasshopper. Start now, so the first batch will be ready for summer. Once you taste it, you're bound to zest, soak, and repeat. The first step to making limoncello involves extorting all the sensory goodness from the lemons. The liqueur uses only the zest of lemons, where the fragrant oils hide; the pith or juice would foul up the aromatic intensity of liqueur with a sour or bitter taste. Ingredients: 8 large lemons, cleaned 1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka 1 1/2 cups of white sugar 2 cups water Zest the lemons, or cut the lemons in half and shave off as much yellow skin and as little white pulp as possible. In a large mason jar, combine the pieces of zest with the vodka—the higher the proof, the better the vodka's ability to leach the oils from the lemon. Store in a cool place for two weeks, and agitate once or twice a day to help release the oils. After two weeks of steeping, strain the mixture and return the now lemony-fresh spirit to the jar. Make simple syrup by dissolving approximately 1 1/2 cups of sugar into 2 cups of boiling water. Let the syrup cool, then add it to the alcohol. Reseal and wait two to three weeks, shaking the jar once or twice a day. Afterward, you can transfer the limoncello to recycled soda bottles or any smaller bottle with a screw-top lid or stopper (Cost Plus has a decent selection of the latter). If using 80-proof vodka, the resulting liqueur should be close to 60-percent alcohol or 30 proof. Limoncello-making tips: Mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and key limes all make their own tasty version of this classic. When the alcohol extracts oils from the citrus skin, it can extract anything else, so it's important to use pesticide-free fruit. The same thing applies to the spirit: garbage in, garbage out. However, fancy vodka is unnecessary if you have a handy Brita home pitcher. Most vodkas endure charcoal filtering to catch nasty impurities that are all too common in the low-rent stuff. Activated carbon is precisely Brita's modus operandi. You can run any cheap vodka through the pitcher four or five times to class the hooch up. Why pay so much for odorless, tasteless liquor when you can do the work yourself and clean the pitcher in the process? (Just rinse the filter a few times when you're finished.) Limoncello drinking tips: Store your limoncello in the freezer and serve in frozen shot glasses for maximum enjoyment. Limoncello and soda is easy and refreshing; a shot of the liqueur added to your cheap summer red wine makes instant sangria. You can even pour a little over ice cream or sorbet. The liqueur also acts as a boozy sweet-and-sour mix, adding a complex citrus flavor and light sweetness to any cocktail without the acidity of lemon juice. Mix one part limoncello with two parts whiskey to replace the "sour" in your whiskey sour with high-octane aromatherapy. The same thing with tequila or dark rum makes a warm-weather cocktail that's far from fruit salad.

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