The gloaming time at Spannocchia brings easy laughter and Limoncello, a homemade Italian lemon liqueur that delights all but the teetotalers on the multinational 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, collection of 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 breathe “perfect” yet? Perfect. And they produce their own luscious, organic olive oil. Silky. 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 strolled the dirt paths in search of pigs, gathered to sip wine on the velvet grass terrace, and marveled at the antiquity–the steadfastness–of the structures. We had nothing better to do than contemplate the landscape and wonder at the presence of “now.” We found a paradise 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 Anna who was lamenting Spannocchia in summer. I had purchased their cookbook and perched it prominently on the wrought recipe stand in my kitchen. Oh, please ask me where I’m from, the cover whispered anytime someone new walked in the room.
I leafed through the unbleached pages. Hmm, maybe one of the Tuscan desserts we nibbled without regard for calories? Then I spied the Limoncello recipe (page 82). 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 the 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 (I use the additional recipes below), but it is quintessential Italy and a spanky gift.
By the way, Anna squealed and hugged me long and hard when she realized what I’d created for her. 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 unflavored 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.
MIX IT UP!
1 part Limoncello, chilled
2 parts Champagne or Prosecco, chilled
1 very slim slice of lemon, seeds removed
Place lemon slice in the bottom of a sugar-rimmed Champagne glass, combine Limoncello and Champagne or Prosecco.
Add selzer to dilute, if desired.
In a wine glass, combine:
1 part Limoncello, chilled
2 parts dry white wine, chilled
2 Tbsp lemon sorbet
Mix and slurp!
*Wine Enthusiast Magazine gives Tito’s Handmade Vodka a 90-95 rating and highlights Tito’s on several “Top” lists. I’m not the only one who likes to write about food and travel–check out Wine Enthusiast’s Food and Travel section!
*Reprinted at Bucket List Publications. April 2012.
*Shout out and linked from Tito’s Handmade Vodka! April 2012.