Meet Pippo (short for Giuseppe, and pronounced ‘Pee-poh’). He and his produce-filled van can be found seven days a week, rain or shine, all day long near Motta S. Anastasia, in the province of Catania. My husband and I visit the area a few times a month, and often stop to make purchases from Pippo while we’re there. Most of the produce that he sells comes from his own fields, orchards, and groves, with the rest coming from those of his friends.
While we were visiting with Pippo this time, some other Americans who live in the area had also stopped to make purchases. They didn’t speak much Italian, so I was translating for them. Pippo was informing us about practically everything that he was selling – blood oranges, pears, apples, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, wine, cauliflower, and more. It was when he picked up the largest lemon that I had ever seen, however, that he got really excited. “Super Limone!” he exclaimed, and then proceeded to cut open the gigantic fruit. The inside consisted of very little pulp for the size of the lemon. It was mostly white pith. Seeing the looks on our faces, Pippo explained that these were cedro (cider) limoni, otherwise known as citron, and are for eating, not juicing. They are often used for preserves and candied fruit. He said that Sicilians like to peel them, thinly slice them (pith and all), sprinkle them with a little sea salt, drizzle them with some extra-virgin olive oil, and eat them as a salad. Pippo then let all of us sample a slice. It was the sweetest lemon that I had ever tasted! It almost tasted like lemon drop candy! So, I bought one in order to try his salad suggestion, as well as a couple sacks full of regular lemons, and, of course, more blood oranges (I told you before that I loved them!).
The salad of the cedro limone was absolutely delicious! In addition to the salt, I also sprinkled just a touch of sugar on the lemon slices to bring out their sweetness even more. I couldn’t help thinking how refreshing it would be to eat it chilled on a hot, summer day. Sadly, these lovely delicacies only exist during the summer months. I need to enjoy them while they last!
As for the rest of my purchases, my husband was very excited to see the sacks of normal lemons. He knew exactly what I was going to make with them. LIMONCELLO!!!
Limoncello is a lemon liquor that originates from the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. Sipping chilled Limoncello as a digestivo (digestive) after dinner is very common throughout Italy. On several occasions, my husband and I have enjoyed complimentary glasses of Limoncello offered to us in restaurants at the end of our meal. I have also used it to flavor cheesecake, ice cream, sorbet, and even a few sauces. It’s especially yummy drizzled over vanilla ice cream (think of a lemon dreamsicle). I’ve seen other Americans treat it as they would a shot of whiskey. However, this is not…I repeat…IS NOT how this liquor is supposed to be enjoyed. It is to be sipped and savored, not gulped down in one swallow. Limoncello is now widely available for purchase in the United States and elsewhere. However, it is just as easy to make from scratch.
Sicilian Limoncello is more intense in every way than Limoncello made it other parts of Italy. Its color is more vibrant, it’s sweeter on the palate, and it has a more pronounced lemon flavor.. My recipe for Limoncello comes from Aurelio Ferrari, a Sicilian man who I met while studying at Babilona Language School in Taormina last year. Students at the school have the option to pay for Sicilian cooking lessons taught by Aurelio, of which I took full advantage, of course. Aurelio’s recipe calls for twice the amount of sugar than other recipes I’ve tried, but Jay and I like it best. In our opinion, it has the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and alcohol.
Homemade Limoncello will keep for months in the freezer. Because of the high alcohol content, it will not freeze. If you do make it, though, be sure to use alcool pure (pure alcohol – Everclear in the U.S.). I’ve tried making it with vodka instead, but didn’t really like the results. The alcohol and simple syrup separated after a few days in the freezer, and the syrup froze. It is also very important to use fresh, organic lemons. Non-organic lemons are coated in a waxy substance to make them shiny and preserve them. This substance will greatly affect the flavor of the finished product. You will not be able to enjoy the Limoncello on the same day that you make it. It takes a little over 2 weeks for the alcohol to draw all of the flavor from the lemon zests. Trust me, though, it’s worth the wait!
15 fresh, organic lemons (you will only use the zest for this recipe. Reserve the pulp and juice to make something else, like lemonade)
1 Liter Pure Alcohol (Everclear)
1 Liter Water
1 Kg (2 pounds, 3 oz) Granulated Sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the yellow zest from the lemons, leaving as much of the bitter, white pith behind as possible. Evenly divide the alcohol into two quart-sized Mason jars, or other large, tight-sealing, glass container. Place half of the lemon zest into each jar. Seal tightly, and place in a cool, dark place for 15 days.
After the 15 days have passed, line a colander with cheesecloth, and strain the alcohol into a large container. Set aside. Place the remaining lemon zest into a 4-quart stock pot, and add the water and sugar. Heat the liquid over medium-high heat, until just about boiling, stirring frequently to help the sugar dissolve comletely. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, remove the lemon zest, and combine with the reserved alcohol. Pour into glass bottles fitted with stoppers, and store in the freezer. Limoncello is best served ice-cold in small cordial glasses.