Limoncello: A Remedy for Italian Nostalgia

The View from the Terrace at Spannocchia

The gloaming time at Spannocchia brings easy laughter and Limoncello, a homemade Italian lemon liqueur that delights all but the teetotalers on the multi-national guest list. Spannocchia is a diamond of a place to stay, half-buried in the Tuscan landscape just outside of Siena, Italy, where they serve  their own farm-raised organic pork products, including the best prosciutto I’ve ever tasted.

This 12th Century tenuta, a working farm with connections to America through The Spannocchia Foundation, includes a large, rambling main villa with a Medieval castle tower, chapel and traditional rustic guest rooms, several outlying farmhouses, an organic farm and teaching center, and the wine- making room. But, most memorable of all: the communal meals under a grape arbor-shaded stone patio, and of course, cooking lessons in the authentic Tuscan tradition.

Did I say “perfect” yet? Perfect. And they produce their own luscious organic olive oil. But, back to Limoncello.

Living, even briefly, in a place like Spannocchia leaves behind a persisting ache. Like some kind of phantom limb that itches every now and then and your arm isn’t long enough to scratch it. The locale–its rustic elegance and
contented quiet–got under my skin and in the middle of a meeting or stressful day or a Herculean effort to find time to write, I miss it. So does my writing buddy, Anna, who joined me last summer along with a slew of other writers at the Spalding MFA in Writing Italian international residency.

For eight days, we walked the dirt paths in search of pigs, gathered to sip wine on the soft grass terrace, and marveled at the antiquity and steadfastness of the structures. We had nothing better to do than contemplate the landscape and presence of “now.” This paradise is replete with Limoncello, wine, pork, and homemade pasta. With this constant combination in our bellies, we shed our “other,” more taciturn, selves to discuss the advantages of a commune and the artistry of Fellini films.

Months later on chilling Pennsylvania soil, I drummed around for a meaningful gift for my friend, who was lamenting Spannocchia in summer. I had purchased the cookbook (and apron) and perched it prominently on my wrought recipe stand in my kitchen. Oh, please ask me where I’m from (that’s what the unbleached book cover pronounced anytime anyone walked in the room).

Ah, maybe one of the Tuscan desserts we had foraged over without regard for calories? Then I spied the Limoncello recipe. No, THAT was perfect. How better to say “I wish we could go back in time for a moment!”

The beauty of this sip of sweet nostalgia is that the recipe and process are very simple. Other than my suggestion of a very smooth alcohol base called Tito’s Handmade Vodka and the conversion to U.S. measurements, this recipe is intact and a true snapshot of the Spannocchia experience. I prefer dry wine, so this is a little sweet for me (maybe add some seltzer water to it?), but it is quintessential Italy and a spanky gift.


By the way, my friend squealed and hugged me long and hard when she realized what I’d created. Not a drink, but a time travel for the winter months. Now what will I think of next year?

Ciao and enjoy ~ Karen

Limoncello (Lemon Liqueur)

1 liter vodka (Tito’s Handmade Vodka is the BEST)

8 organic lemons

4 cups water

2 1/2 cups white sugar

Wash lemons. Zest only the yellow part of the lemons as the white rind is bitter. In a clean, dry glass container combine all of the lemon zest and Tito’s Handmade Vodka for EIGHT DAYS. Filter the vodka with a very fine colander to catch all of the zest; it will be a lovely clear yellow color.

Simple Syrup: Boil water and sugar until completely melted. Cool. Stir in lemon-infused alcohol. Dilute for a less strong alcohol flavor. Separate into decorative containers for gifts, if desired. KEEP REFRIGERATED and drink cold in small shot glasses.