When Life Throws Lemons (and Other Citrus-y Stuff), Chrysa Robertson Makes Limoncello

Italians are nuts for limoncello, a sweet, bright lemon liqueur traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestif. They drink it in restaurants and make it at home, using family recipes passed down for generations. In the last few years (and possibly owing to cocktail culture's interest in tradition), house-made limoncello has been popping up in upscale Italian restaurants and other chef-driven, cocktail-centric eateries -- around the U.S.

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So it's no wonder that Chrysa Robertson -- one of our first home-town chefs to make local-seasonal-organic her mantra -- whips up batches of limoncello every winter at Italian-inflected Rancho Pinot. She says it's easy as pie -- easier, actually -- requiring little more than citrus peeling expertise and patience.

Robertson prepares her batches in those big aguas frescas jars you find at Food City. Then she buys six 750 ml bottles of inexpensive vodka (90 to 100 proof). Using 12-15 lemons per bottle, she peels the zest from the lemons (making sure not to get the pith) and throws them in the jar, pours the vodka over them and adds sugar to taste. Then she waits about 30 days and voila! limoncello. It keeps forever in the freezer, and that's exactly how you want to drink it -- unless, of course, in the dead of summer, you pour it over ice cream or sorbet, which Robertson promises is refreshing and delicious.

Her recipe is loosey-goosey so you might want to find one on the internet if you need more precise measurements, And if you do that, you're going to discover that some recipes call for Everclear (120-proof) with simple syrup (because the water in the syrup helps dilute the high-octane spirit). Up to you. Be free. It's your limoncello reality.

Robertson doesn't limit herself to everyday Lisbon lemons, however. When she can get them (and our recent hard freeze wiped out a lot of local citrus), she also makes limoncello with Meyer lemons, blood oranges, tangerines and kumquats, pouring the final mixture back in the original vodka bottles, and unceremoniously dating and labeling them with a piece of masking tape.

She swears they're all wonderful, but her favorite may be tangerine. If you're not a DIY kind of person, just swing by Rancho and Robertson will pour you whatever she's got on hand, each flavor priced at $8 each. I've tried the lemon (which offers up a penetrating pop of bright-sweet-tangy citrus) and kumquat (which is milder and more floral but still delivers a bit of sour-citrus kick). Can't go wrong on this one. Find your inner Italian.

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