Friday, August 6, 2010

Limoncello and a Trip to Positano

One of the calamities of our past winter weather is that my lemon tree never made it to Spring.  The mildness of the winter lulled me into a false sense of security so I never bundled my little tree with burlap. It was so sad to see something so beautiful turn so brown and dry.  It became garden compost , soon to dress the new tree that took it's place.  This new one seems to like us, I'm getting lots of blossoms on it and the bees are busy pollinating.  I'm anxious for the lemons-just like anything else you grow yourself there is nothing like fresh lemons off of your own tree.  And just the scent from the blossoms takes me immediately to Positano, Italy , where I was first introduced to Limoncello.  Let me tell you what took us to Positano in the first place.  Do you remember the movie with Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr-Only You

 When I saw that scenery in the movie  I had to sit thru the credits to see where it was filmed-Positano.  Of course I immediately went to the Internet and did my research.  I said to J that someday we were going to Positano, he smiled , knowing me and knowing that yes I could fall in love with a place and its romance solely based on a movie.  A few  years later we were stepping off a bus from Sorrento and into  Positano.  I was bowled over by the beauty, it was literally breathtaking.  It was exactly what I expected and more.  Beautiful sherbet colored homes on the hillside, the Mediterranean bluer than Paul Newman's eyes, and the smells; the scent of jasmine and lemons along the pathways; fresh marinara sauce from the kitchens and walking by a pizza oven-oh heaven... Down on the beach, walking by the open air cafes and restaurants you could smell so many incredible seafood smells and the salty air.  And our villa,and that's exactly what it was-Villa Fiorentino.  When we planned that trip we decided that we were going to end our trip to Europe in style at a romantic hillside villa overlooking Positano and the Mediterranean. Our first night there we wandered thru the little hillside village and discovered Limoncello.

 It looked so beautiful-surrounded by lemons and beautiful fabrics in blues and yellows.  We weren't sure what it tasted like but it looked delicious.  We headed back to the Villa, took out some chilled glasses , poured a glass and sat by the pool and toasted our good fortune and all the beauty that surrounded us.

We continued to sip on into the night watching the purples and pinks of the sunset and then watching the sky turn to my favorite shade of blue just after dusk when it almost glows blue.  More sipping as the stars came out and all the homes on the hillside twinkled with the lights inside the houses.  It doesn't get any more perfect or romantic-with or without Limoncello!  If Positano was the present we had given ourselves, then the Limoncello was the big bow wrapped around it.   We enjoyed a glass every night, toasting the sunset, our love and good fortune and the beauty of Positano.

We vowed someday to return and until we do we will toast Positano from our little garden haven in our back yard,remembering those warm romantic Mediterranean nights.  Make some Limoncello before summer ends and remember your favorite getaway while sipping this refreshing liqueur.

Limoncello is a liqueur and is meant to be sipped and enjoyed slowly.  Close your eyes smell the lemons, feel the Amalfi sun on your face.
Even the history of Limoncello spins a web of romantic intrigue with story after story of how it was discovered. I found this little summary of the history of Limoncello while looking for an authentic recipe on the Internet.
The liquor was born at the beginning of 1900, in a small boarding house of the island Azzurra, where the lady Maria Antonia Farace took care of a rigorous garden of lemons and oranges. The nephew, during the post-war period, opened a bar near Alex Munte’s villa. The speciality of that bar was the lemon liquor made with nonna’s old recipe. In 1988, the son Massimo Canale started a small handmade production of limoncello, registering the trademark. But really, Sorrento and Amalfi have some legends and stories on the production of the traditional yellow liquor. On the coast, for example, the story narrates that the big families of Sorrento, at the beginning of 1900, would always ensure that their illustrious guests would get a taste of limoncello, made according to the traditional recipe. In Amalfi, there’s even those who believe that the liquor has older origins, almost linked to the lemon cultivation. However, as it frequently happens in these circumstances, the truth is vague and the hypothesis are many and interesting. Someone believes that limoncello was used in the morning by fishermen and countrymen to fight the cold, since the invasion periods. Others, instead, believe that the recipe was born inside a monastic convent to delight the monks from prayer to prayer. Legends have it that limoncello and other liqueurs of fermented spices, fruits, and herbs were developed in convents. In the early 1600's, the nuns of Santa Rosa convent in Conca dei Marini were using this citrus-based liqueur to give their famous lemon pastry sfogiatella Santa Rosa its authentic taste.
And of course after reading that something so luscious could have been developed in a convent and used for a lemon pastry -well my curiosity was piqued and I had to find out what sfogiatella Santa Rosa is. In my search I came across a marvelous ancient recipe -it includes an updated "modern recipe" . Watch my blog for Sfogiatella Santa Rosa pastries .

Recipe for Limoncello
Adapted from the Foodnetwork Fans Recipe
Makes about 2 1/2 liters, approximately 84oz
1 liter of Everclear alcohol, approximately 34 oz
10 medium to large lemons-preferably organic
1 1/2 liters of water, approximately 50 oz
3 lbs of sugar (1 1/2 kilos)

1.Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any residue of pesticides or wax; pat the lemons dry. Using a vegetable or potato peeler, peel the lemon rinds off of the lemons so there is no white pith on the peel. Place the peelings in a large container with the Everclear alcohol. Cover the container and let it sit for at least seven days.  I've been peeking in on my little lemon peels, all swimming beautifully in the Everclear.  Right now it's day 12 and I am ready to wave the magic wand and turn grain alcohol, lemon peels and sugar into the delectably cooling, deliciously tart and sweet Limoncello.  

2.On the eight day or whenever you are ready, strain the the peels from alcohol; discard peels-they will be crispy like crackers !
3.In a large saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar; let it simmer at a fast simmer 15 minutes. Allow the simple syrup cool to room temperature. Add the syrup to the alcohol.

It is now ready! It's best for sipping from a chilled glass out on a terrace in Positano,overlooking the Mediterranean. Alright, just use your imagination while sitting on your patio in your backyard. Really as soon as the taste flows across your palette you will be transported to the Amalfi Coast.

PS You can also make Arancello using the same recipe just substitute 10 large oranges for the lemons.

And now I'm pouring  a little glass of Limoncello,taking that first sweet sip and  and heading back to Positano,if only in my heart..Ciao


Jane said...

Oh my gosh! What a wonderful post this is. Really interesting and beautiful. I love hearing the history of limoncello. It's one of my very favorite liqueurs, particularly to use in baking/pastry. I would never have dreamed one could make it at home, though. How fantastic!
Lovely photos, too!

fromBAtoParis said...

Oh Sandy !!! What a great writer YOU are !!! I loved this post, the description of Positano...and your romantic oui, for romance, one has to go to Italy !!!! I've been fortunate to be in Positano...and drink lemoncello....we drink a lot of lemoncello in Argentina, I've posted about that...For your next romantic escapade, I recommend you Taormina, in Sicily!! The south of vera Italia!! I don't know if you've been there...
I'm just like you...I don't know Seattle...but after seeing "Sleepless in Seattle aprox 15 times AND crying 15 times, it is a must for me!! Someday!!! AND you are right! There's nothing bluer than Paul Newmann's eyes !! Cheers!