Our regular evening passagiatta led us along the banks of the lagoon in Venice to the Rialto Bridge, were we sat relaxing on the pavement – people watching and listening to street musicians with tourists and locals alike. Hunger pangs eventually forced us into the side streets in search of the ideal place to eat. We knew exactly what we wanted, but yet again another major European city caught us by surprise. It was 9pm and trattoria after trattoria was either closed, closing or not taking any new patrons.
After half an hour walking up and down various streets and alleys we glanced up at a gentleman busy sliding the locks into place of his empty restaurant. Perhaps he heard our tummies rumbling or our looks of desperation or perhaps he wanted a little more income that evening. He raised his eyes quizzically. “Si, per favore”, we exclaimed. “Benvenuto” he ushered us in, locking the door behind. The chef good naturedly smiled, put his apron back on, and bustled into the back. We wanted to put our order in quickly as we did not want to further inconvenience them. We were also starving by now, but everyone had disappeared behind the curtain.
“Surprise!” Our saviour arrived with a bowl of piping hot crispy zucchini fries, a large jug of water and a carafe of red wine.
We placed our order and dived into the fries. This was the first time we had tried them and they would become one of our all time Italian favourites. We started to relax, sensing that there was no need to rush and, now that we were invited in, the full attention and love of Italians in the preparation and enjoyment of food was at work. Our meals were delicious. We were overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality (and red wine).
“Surprise!” Two small glasses of pale yellow liquor arrived with our bill. Another new discovery – Limoncello – smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor.
All the “surprises” were not included in our bill – so letting us in certainly was not down to a profit motive. At no stage was there any pressure to leave, in fact the opposite we had a leisurely supper and were introduced to 2 of our favourite Italian dishes, both of which we now make.
Grazie Mr Surprise.
We have a lemon tree at home that groans under the weight of its fruit. The boughs bend so much that it resembles a willow tree. Initially I tried to stake it and prop it up but there are too many branches and also makes it easier to pick lemons.
I am amazed though that nature allows these trees to produce so much fruit.
It started producing fruit in its 3rd year and now produces a prodigious amount. We have a continuous supply throughout the year. Pruning is unfortunate as it requires cutting off branches with good fruit. The only reason we were forced to prune is due to it encroaching into the driveway and we struggled to get the cars into the garage. Our biggest problem is trying use and give away the huge amount of lemons.
Limoncello, lemonade, lemon meringue, and of course garnish for gin and tonic.
- Zest of 10 lemons
- 750 ml Vodka
- 3 cups of water
- 2 cup of sugar
Zest the lemons. (Then squeeze them to make juice for lemonade). Add zest to a bottle of vodka in suitable container and store in fridge for 1 to 4 weeks – the longer the better. When ready bring sugar and water to boil and ensure well dissolved. Cool and then add to lemon/vodka mix. Store in fridge for a few more days to steep and then pour into bottles.
How much alchohol?
Pure alcohol or 100 proof vodka is best to use for making limoncello as it extracts more flavour from the lemon zest.
The higher the alcohol content the more sugar syrup will be required.
How much sugar?
A basic syrup is made of 1 cup of sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water and this will be suitable for high proof alcohol.
I have found that 2 cups of sugar to 3 cups of water to 3 cups of vodka (45% proof) works well.
Store the bottles in the freezer and serve after your next Italian creation. It is also wonderful poured over vanilla ice cream. The Limoncello will not freeze if there is sufficient alcohol!