Monday, March 18

When life hands you lemons . . .

"Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade."
-Clarence Edwin Flynn, 1940

Lemonade is great, but let's face it, there are days when you need something just a little stronger.  While I'm not an advocate for drowning your cares in a bottle, I am a big fan of lemons so when life hands me one, well, I turn it into limoncello.

At this time of year the market shelves are dripping with lemons, sunny and bright.  It's time to make limoncello again.  I look forward to it every year in wet and windy March.  Outside the snow is still swirling in misty clouds around the mountain peaks, and here in the foothills the wet wind blows down the mountain side in ferocious gales that rip the tree branches apart and tear down fences.  A stormy afternoon is the perfect time to make limoncello.  Like a ritual I preform once a year, I put the kettle on for green tea as I clean the lemons.  Then I settle myself in front of the window with a very sharp knife and begin peeling them.  All ten of them.  It's a bit of a process, and you need to be fairly meticulous about removing every last bit of white pith from the peels, but it's worth it. 

When the clouds finally part, resplendent light dances across the peels on my cutting board illuminating them like brilliant flecks of sunshine. The steam from my tea still rises, and the smell of lemon permeates the whole house - fresh and clean, like spring.  Then, just as quickly, the sun disappears and the wind howls once again.   Still, the lemon peels are radiant.   Now do you see why I save limoncello for March?

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur that's traditionally served as a digestivo after a large meal.  Serve it well-chilled in two ounce portions, and store it in the freezer.  I've made this version every March for years.  It's from Giada de Laurentiis's book Giada's Family Dinners, and it's so good why change it?

Now, what do you do with the ten peeled lemons that you're left with?  Make lemonade, of course.

from Giada's Family Dinners

10 organic lemons
1 (750 ml) bottle of vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

Wash the lemons well.  With a sharp knife remove the peel from the lemons in long strips.  Place each strip flat on the cutting board and carefully slice off ALL of the remaining white pith.  I'm serious - don't leave any of the pith or it will cause the limoncello to become bitter.  Place the lemon peels in a glass jar and pour the vodka over them.  Cover and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 4 days.

On the fourth day heat the water and sugar together in a medium sauce pan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool to room temperature and stir into the vodka mixture.  Cover again and let the mixture sit 24 hours longer.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.  Pour into glass bottles or jars and seal tightly.  Store in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 3 months.  Serve will chilled.

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