Happy Independence Day everyone! I hope that you are having an enjoyable holiday weekend. This time of year presents a bit more time – for being outdoors, for enjoying visits with friends and family, and for changing up schedules from the normally hectic to something less so. And time is something you will need for these recipes, although the preparations are easy and only require a few ingredients. The results are refreshing and perfect for warm summer afternoons.
For these two recipes I used lemons, similar to what is seen in my photograph. The lemon on the left is the conventional fruit found in most supermarkets. The middle lemon is organic, which is great for recipes that require the use of the skin. A Meyer lemon is pictured on the right, smaller than a regular lemon with an orange skin. Meyer lemons are a touch sweeter and have a bit of an orange flavor, and can be a nice complement to any of these recipes. For making lemonade, any combination of these lemons will do, but for the limoncello I would recommend the organic lemon or Meyer lemon, since the skins will be soaking for quite awhile and any pesticides that are on the skins would end up in the beverages.
Let’s start with the limoncello: I found a great recipe at The Kitchn and I used a combination of lemons: five Meyer lemons and five organic lemons. There are a number of ways to modify the beverage to make it sweeter or stronger with lemon depending on the ratio of sweet to water and how long the lemon peels steep in the alcohol. I let the lemon peels steep for a full month, but you can let them soak for as little as four days. And when making the simple syrup, you can create any ratio of sweet and water between one cup of each to four cups of each. So I tried two cups of each and we liked the result very much. Instead of using cane sugar, I used a light agave syrup, and the results were great. Once I peeled the lemons, I used the juice to make the lemonade recipe (recipe follows below).
10 organic lemons, washed and dried
1 750-ml bottle vodka (100-proof preferred, or 80-proof)
1 to 4 cups light agave nectar (I used 2 cups)
1 to 4 cups water (I used 2 cups)
Vegetable peeler, microplane or zester
1 quart jar or other similar-sized container with a lid
Bowl with spout (or four-cup measuring cup)
2 clean 16-ounce bottles or several bottles equalling similar volume (I used three clean, empty Grolsch beer bottles)
1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peels from the lemons. Try to remove only the outer yellow skin and as little of the pith as possible.
2. Transfer the lemon peels to a 1-quart jar and cover with vodka. Screw on the lid. Let the vodka and lemon peels infuse somewhere out of the way and out of direct sunlight for at least four days or as long as one month. The longer the vodka infuses, the more lemony the limoncello.
3. After the lemon and vodka have infused, Set a strainer over a bowl with spout or four-cup measuring cup. Pour the vodka through the strainer so that the lemon peels are removed from the liquid.
4. Prepare a sweet syrup of at least 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar (I used two cups of each). Bring the water to a simmer and stir in the agave to dissolve; allow to cool.
5. Pour the cooled sweet syrup into the bowl with the strained vodka. Mix. Distribute the contents into your storage bottles. The limoncello keeps indefinitely in the freezer.
To make lemonade, you can use the juice from the lemons you just peeled to make limoncello, or bypass that step to only make this refreshing beverage. I substituted the cane sugar with light agave nectar and the results again were very nice.
1 cup light agave nectar
5 cups water, divided
6 to 8 lemons (about 1 cup of lemon juice)
1. Combine the agave and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat to dissolve the agave. Once the sweet is completely dissolved, remove from heat to cool.
2. Roll each lemon over a cutting board, pressing down as you do, to help them to release their juice. Cut in half and squeeze. Repeat until you have one cup.
3. Add the cooled sweet syrup to a pitcher, then the lemon juice and the remaining four cups of water. Stir. Taste and adjust – add a tablespoon of agave if you want it to be sweeter or the juice of 1/2 lemon if you prefer more tartness.
4. Add ice to pitcher if you think you will drink all the lemonade right away. Otherwise add ice to each glass.