And then, after dessert, Sherry suggested we should try Limoncello . . .
Limoncello (or lemoncello) is an Italian lemon liqueur primarily produced in Southern Italy, mainly in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi and islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri, but also in Sicily, Sardinia, Menton in France and the Maltese island of Gozo. Traditionally, it is made from the Sorrento lemon, though most lemons will produce satisfactory limoncello.
Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner “digestivo” (digestif, which is an alcoholic beverage that is taken just after a meal, purportedly as an aid to digestion—hence the name). Along the Amalfi Coast, it is usually served in small ceramic glasses themselves often chilled, the Amalfi coast being a center of both ceramic and limoncello production. This tradition has been carried into other parts of Italy.
So . . . had you ever heard of it? I found out that you can easily make your own Limoncello at home. Of course, you can also buy it, but it's a little bit on the pricy side. There are many recipes online—and most of them come along with a story. I found this one (at "Living in the Boot" http://livingintheboot.squarespace.com/blog/2009/5/17/limoncello.html) particularly easy to follow. I'll just copy the recipe here, but you can click on the link to check the blog for photos and an interesting story.
Authentic Italian Limoncello
1 liter (1,000 ml) of Everclear alcohol (can be made with vodka, too, but not as authentic)
10 medium to large lemons - the best quality you can find
1 1/2 liters (1500 ml) of bottled water
3 lbs (6 cups) sugar
1. Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any dirt, pesticides or wax; pat dry. Using a good vegetable peeler, take all the lemon rind off, very carefully, avoiding any white pith which is bitter.
2. Place lemon peels in glass container with Everclear. Place in cool, dark place (where no kids can get a hold of it!) for 2 weeks.
3. After 2 weeks, place water and sugar in large saucepan, and bring to a fast simmer for about 15 minutes, until thickened some. Let simple syrup cool to room temperature. Strain lemon peels out of alcohol (it should be a lovely shade of yellow and the peels will be stripped of color), and add cooled syrup. Place in dark, cool spot again and let sit 1-2 weeks.
4. After second rest period, slowly filter alcohol through a coffee filter, to remove any residue, into a large pitcher. This takes time; just set up on counter and poor a little, walk away and let filter, come back add more, etc. This really helps "clean out" the limoncello. Place filtered limoncello in glass containers (rinsed liquor bottles work well) and freeze! Voilà!
Limoncello should be served out of the freezer, very cold, in a cold shot glass, sipped after a meal.
I also found recipes that included Limoncello in their ingredients:
Limoncello Almond Pound Cake
Baker’s notes: This cake’s texture isn’t like that of a traditional pound cake (do to the amount of almond paste in it). I find it tastes best served the next day, after the limoncello has had a chance to completely soak in. I also like to serve the slices warm (a 15 second zap in the microwave does the trick). I highly recommend serving with whipped cream and fresh berries, but a dusting of powdered sugar will also do.
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup light olive oil (alternative: lemon-flavored olive oil)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
10 ounces almond paste (not marzipan), finely crumbled
2-3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
4 large eggs
1/3 cup limoncello liquer
Assorted fresh berries
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Using electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup sugar, oil and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the almond paste and lemon peel. Beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture; stir to blend. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake cake until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on a rack. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature). Remove pan sides from cake and transfer to serving plate. Poke holes all around top of cake with a wooden skewer and slowly brush the limoncello over the top, allowing it to completely soak in. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries.
Limoncello Plum Tart
500g ready-made shortcrust pastry
zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
4 tbsp double cream
100g pack ground almonds
100g butter , melted
8 tbsp limoncello liqueur
6 plums , stoned and cut into wedges
200g golden caster sugar
Roll out the pastry and use to line a loose-bottomed tart tin, 25cm diameter and about 3.5-4cm deep. Chill for at least half an hour.
Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 mins. Remove beans and paper.
Put the lemon zest and juice, cream, almonds, sugar, eggs and melted butter in a large bowl and whisk until smooth then stir in the limoncello.
Put the plums in the pastry case then pour the custard mixture over. Bake for about 20-30 mins until the custard is just set. Allow to cool then dredge with icing sugar before serving.
Lemony Limoncello and Mascarpone Mousse Verrines
A verrine is a confection, originally from Paris, made by artfully layering ingredients in a small glass, and may be either savory or sweet. Very chic and trendy--this one is served in a shot-glass! Use the larger 2.5 to 3 ounce shotglasses, or use ramekins. Makes about 8 Verrines.
* 1/4 cup fresh raspberry (optional)
* 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
* 1 cup prepared lemon curd
* 4 tablespoons limoncello (1 jigger plus 1 tablespoon)
* 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
* 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
* 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
* fresh mint leaves, for garnish
1. Rinse and drain raspberries, gently pat dry and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon zest and the lemon curd. Stir in the Limoncello liqueur, whisking briskly until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat in the lemon extract. Fold in the mascarpone and stir gently; combine well.
4. In 8 large shot-glasses or ramekins, evenly and attractively layer the lemon curd mixture and the mascarpone mousse (use a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, if desired).
5. Top with the fresh berries, and garnish with a mint leaf.
6. Chill until serving time.