Around the same time Mason jars became hip, home cooking became a competitive sport. Foodists no longer impress friends with homespun gifts: sourdough bread, strawberry jam, pies filled with Granny Smith apples, rainbows, and tears. Now, cooks must master duck prosciutto, pickled ramps, and ricotta.
But Jeff Michaud, the James Beard award-winning executive chef and co-owner of Osteria Restaurant and Amis Restaurant in Philadelphia, has one recipe to trump them all: homemade booze.
Michaud, who's popping up at Harry's Pizzeria this Tuesday, June 18, makes limoncello -- a lemon-based liquor that originates in southern Italy. The recipe is by his mother-in-law, Pina.
Pina grew up in Bergamo, a city northeast of Milan. Her grandfather used grapes grown on their property to make grappa.
"You never saw limoncello because lemons didn't grow there," says Michaud. "But in the mid-1990s, Pina went on vacation to the Amalfi coast and brought back giant lemons the size of grapefruits. These lemons have almost no juice, so the peels are used to make mostarda (fruit relish), canditi (candied fruit), and limoncello."
Now, his mother-in-law makes limoncello once or twice a year in twenty-liter batches -- which takes about two hundred lemons. Pina, it seems, is a very patient woman.
After you're done peeling the citrus, Michaud suggests: "Squeeze the leftover lemons and use the juice to make lemonade."
Makes 2 1/2 quarts
1 quart grain alcohol or 100-proof vodka
5 cups granulated sugar
1. Peel the lemons, using a vegetable peeler or large zester, taking care not to
remove much of the bitter white membrane beneath the peel. Marinate the peels
in the grain alcohol in a glass jug at room temperature for 2 weeks. Strain into a
pitcher and reserve the peels.
2. Combine the sugar, 1 1/2 quarts of water, and the peels in a large saucepan.
Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves, 5 to
8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, and then strain out and discard
3. Let the syrup cool completely, then stir into the alcohol. Store in bottles in the
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freezer, sipping or using as needed.
Jeff Michaud's Osteria Pizzeria pop-up begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18. Tickets costs $150, including tax and gratuity. Dinner consists of a welcome cocktail, hors d'oeuvres, four courses including dessert, wine and beer, and a bottle of Jeff's mother-in-law Pina's limoncello. Tickets are available here.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.