How To Make Lime-oncello

Mar 13, 2014 3:00 pm

The Italian limoncello recipe goes green. Salute!

lime-oncello
Photos: Bruce Watson
This zesty riff on classic Italian limoncello is a tart, flavorful digestif with a vibrant green hue.
 

There’s something serious about a lime. In the hierarchy of citrus fruits, oranges are the sweet, unsophisticated cousins, sticky, sugary and eager to please. Grapefruits are more tartly nutritious, and lemons are more refreshingly sour. But limes? Limes are tangy and intense, a perfect sharp accompaniment that stands up to tequila and cachaça, gin and salt. Limes are the grown-up fruit, the one you pick when you learn that even the sweetest life sometimes needs a touch of bitterness.

Unfortunately, liquor store lime options tend to be thin and disappointing. Lime juice is usually a sugary joke of a condiment, lime mixers tend toward the overprocessed chemical-tasting end of the street, and lime-flavored boozes, when you can find them, are often anemic. In terms of mixology, most producers seem to be afraid of limes and feel the need to bury them under a ton of sugar, chemicals and other processing.

Luckily, if you want real lime flavor, it’s fairly easy to find it on your own. A good way to start is with this lime-oncello recipe. Basically a riff on the classic Italian limoncello, this liqueur uses lime zest to extract pure lime oil, a sharp, tart, bitter base that is packed with flavor. A light simple syrup helps develop the flavor, making it a little richer and a lot more palatable.

A few tips: while it is possible to substitute 100-proof vodka for grain alcohol, if you do so, you will need to steep the lime peel for a much longer period. You may also want to add less syrup to the finished product. Also, I don’t generally make a point of being brand-specific when it comes to kitchen gadgets, but you’ll really want to use a Microplane grater. The fine grating surface is perfect for capturing the zest, while leaving the bitter pith behind.

Finally, when it comes to storing the lime-oncello, there’s no better place than the freezer. The high alcohol content means that this liqueur won’t freeze and keeping it ice-cold means that you won’t need to dilute it when it comes time for to enjoy it. Simply serve in small glasses, preferably with a plate of prociutto and melon. If you’re so inclined, a sprig of mint makes a great accompaniment. 

Here's what you'll need:

  • 20 limes
  • 1 750-ml bottle grain alcohol
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 750-ml glass mason jar with screw-cap, freshly washed and dried
  • 2 750-ml glass bottles, freshly washed and dried
Scrub the limes
Scrub the limes

Using a new Brillo pad, scrub the limes. Rinse with cold water and dry with a paper towel. 

Zest the limes
Zest the limes

Using a microplane grater, zest the limes into a bowl.

Continue zesting
Continue zesting

Keep grating the very thin outer portion of the rind off until you've zested all the limes. Remember: it's a labor of love.

Combine zest and alcohol
Combine zest and alcohol

Combine the zest with the alcohol. Place in a Mason jar, cap the jar tightly and set aside. Allow your lime liqueur to age for a week, shaking once or twice per day. Every so often, look at the pretty green color and pat yourself on the back.

Strain out the zest
Strain out the zest

Using a cheesecloth-lined strainer, strain out the zest. Squeeze the cheesecloth to get out as much of the lime liquid as possible. 

Filter the liqueur
Filter the liqueur

If you wish, strain the lime liquid through a coffee filter. This will get out even more of the particles. If you don’t do this, they’ll settle out later on their own.

Make the simple syrup
Make the simple syrup

Bring three cups of water to a boil. Add 1.5 cups of white sugar and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Remove the syrup from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine and bottle
Combine and bottle

Combine the sugar syrup and the lime liqueur and divide between two 750-ml clean glass bottles. The finished product will be a little cloudy, largely due to an interaction between the lime essential oil and the water in the sugar syrup. Lime-oncello is best served ice-cold, so store in the freezer, or serve over ice. 

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