Sunday, 12 November 2017

Sourdough Bread & Starter





This sourdough loaf made from Emilie Raffa’s newly released cookbook:  Artisan Sourdough Made Simpleis my proud creation derived from the starter I made and named 'Eve'.  This live culture prepared from just whole wheat flour and water has been fermenting away and creating its magic.  And I have successfully baked with it several times now using Emilie’s recipes and guidance from her book. This loaf was the perfect place to re-start my sourdough passion, and regain my confidence. Since then, I have baked her Fruit and Nut Loaf, and Light Rye Loaf.

For those who may not know Emilie, she is the author of the blog, The Clever Carrot and debut book, The Clever Cookbook.  With her classical training at the International Culinary Centre and her ingenious time saving philosophy for food preparation, I was drawn to her wealth of knowledge in helping me do what I love in half the time needed. Emilie writes with a reassuring and guiding approach which has boosted my confidence to continue baking bread. 

Through following Emilie on IG, she heard my cry for help and directed me to her tutorial on her blog found here.  With this guide, I was able to bake a few decent loaves to be proud of, which in-turn renewed my excitement for making bread the way my grandmothers and their mothers once did using a sourdough starter, but with a more simplified approach. 



Emilie’s book, is a go-to guide and one that has helped answer some of those unexpected questions I was faced with.   So naturally when I heard she had just published a book on this topic, I knew I had to add it to my cookbook collection especially if I was going to continue on this sourdough journey. This book not only teaches you how to make your very own live-culture starter and keeping it healthy, it even guides you on what to do if you forget to feed it.   There are over 65 very clear recipes ranging from an everyday sourdough through to more artisan style sweet and savoury loaves; recipes using wholegrain and specialty flours; and once you have gained some confidence there is a chapter on bread art.  All this is supported with step-by-step photos on shaping the dough and scoring techniques. Additional recipes have also been included for leftover sourdough starter and other recipes to enjoy with bread. 




Meet 'Eve'. This is her at 3 days of feeding and since then has developed actively to reward me with lovely bread, but, it didn't start off this way. My relationship with sourdough starter began a few years ago when a friend shared some with me and included a recipe for sourdough made from a mix of semolina and bakers flour.  I managed to bake a couple of small loaves, focusing mainly on how to knead the bread dough and of course trying really hard to get those big open holes. Little did I know then that it depended on a high-hydration mix, meaning a softer dough; and of course the technique of handling and shaping to name a few. Then time got the better of me and I inevitably let the starter fizzle out and gave up for a short while. If only I had known that my starter could have been revived with a few easy steps. 

If you have ever made sourdough starter and bread before, you will understand its unpredictability; when you think you are doing the right thing, you are suddenly disappointed with the results and ask yourself why? Then those successful baking days that have left me wondering why they could not be repeated. And the overwhelming amount of information, helpful but varied and some that read like a science text book.  As Emilie explains, 'it's like falling into a rabbit hole and becoming entangled in a web of confusing lingo'. 

Since then, there have been other starters made by me as well as gifted to me with many lessons learnt along the way. So what is the attraction or should I say addiction to this ancient technique? I believe it's the satisfaction of creating your very own naturally leavened bread, and being part of a community who enjoys sharing their obsession, failures, successes, exchange ideas as well as being more than happy to share their starter with you.  

What I have recently discovered from Emily and her book, is that you can dry your starter for easy storage and share it with others as far as across the seas! I am greatful and happy to say that an offspring of 'Dillan' (Emilie's starter) is currently in the mail heading my way and to other happy recipients. So with that said, it is now time to feed Eve, pop some in a jar and deliver it to one of my work colleague who loves to bake his own bread. My next project before I bake another exciting loaf is to dry some starter as well. Let me know if you would like some, as I will be more than happy to share.

Click here to purchase your copy of Emilie Raffa's book: Artisan Sourdough Made Simple
Happy baking!
















Sunday, 29 October 2017

Cucina Conversations: Marmellata di Mandarini (Mandarin Marmalade)


A citrus fruit salad tree growing two varieties of lemons - meyer and eureka; juicy navel oranges and nova mandarins all on the one tree. It's quite a treat to own such a tree and many childhood sunny days were spent beneath its shady canopy smelling the sweet scented blossoms and enjoying its fruits. Papa` grafted this tree over 30 years ago and not only is it spectacular in full bloom, it is also lovely knowing we have an endless supply of various citruses ripening over the winter period.  But it’s the additional younger mandarin tree planted beside it that has been the last of the fruit trees for the season to bestow its harvest well into spring.  






The generous citrus yield this year has been literally hanging on, waiting patiently for my spare time to tend to its preservation.  I've made jam, marmalade as well as candied thin slices so I can use them in my upcoming Christmas sweets. Nothing goes to waste; even the thin organic skin of the mandarins have been sliced finely and frozen for future biscuit baking. However the trees have continued bearing more than we can possibly consume, much of the fruit has been given away and up until last week mamma was still delivering bags filled with juicy sweet mandarins to the neighbours.  Hesitantly I even found myself rejecting a third full basket over making yet another batch of marmalade; my only explanation is that lately I have been quite time poor. 

This month our Cucina Conversations topic is about preserving, whether it is the seasons harvest or extending the life of food for that little bit longer. Preserving is the ultimate expression of seasonal eating because the whole point is to use fresh ingredients at their peak; and when food is enjoyed within its natural season, it will have the most complex of flavours and the best nutrition.  My fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers have been preparing some treats for this edition of our round-table. Marialuisa at Marmellata di Cipolle has shared a recipe for pomodori secchi sott'olio sun dried tomatoes in oil, while Flavia at Flavia's Flavors has shared a recipe for pesto abruzzese. Daniela at La Dani Gourmet has used marroni - marron chestnuts to create a chestnut spread to celebrate autumn, and Rosemarie at Turin Mamma will make fette biscottate - dried slices of pan brioche making the perfect base to spread lavish amounts of her home made apple paste.  I have decided to share my recipe for marmellata di mandarini - mandarin marmalade.

Marmalade, which is traditionally made from bitter Seville oranges is the most famous, but can also be made from lemons, limes, kumquats and other citrus.  To make citrus marmalade, the fruit is cut a certain way to expose as much of the rind as possible, releasing the maximum amount of pectin to help create a set.  This also gives the marmalade its distinctive bitter taste.  Not many have a liking for citrus marmalade but I quite like its bitter flavour, especially when paired with chocolate. 

This year for the first time I decided to experiment with the addition of vin cotto to the citrus fruit, suggested to me by my IG friend Marissa at Maccora Vinocotto. She kindly sent me a few bottles of her vin cotto when she heard that my reserves had totally diminished.  Vin cotto is a syrup that my family also make every wine season during the autumn period and a product that my paternal grandparents made and used in their cooking.  The beauty of preservation experienced then and now, is that when the season is long gone all still enjoy that bottle of vine-ripened flavor whether in the form of wine drunk with a meal or vin cotto used in cooking.

This marmalade recipe is easy to follow and make.  If you have access to vin cotto then I encourage its use as it adds an exquisite caramelised flavour to the fruit. However it also works well without it, and can be replaced with either grated ginger or even vanilla bean. I like to experiment every time I make a new batch.  If you have the correct ratio of sugar to fruit, then adding your favourite flavouring does not affect the consistency of the marmalade, however I have discovered that there are some rules when pairing.

According to Stephanie Alexander in her book The Cook's Companion, the following is suggested. Orange and mandarin pairs well with: almonds, basil, berries, brandy, cherry, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, coffee, cranberry, fig, ginger, grape, honey, hazelnut, mint, nutmeg, persimmon, pineapple, and vanilla to name a few.

The mandarin variety recommended, such as the nova used here, or even the honey murcott that you can still find at the markets in early spring, have a thin skin, are firm and super juicy.  The latter are sweeter and may require the addition of one lemon, while the nova is more tangy and I have therefore opted to leave out the lemon and added the vin cotto. Yes, both varieties may contain pips, but take no time to remove when the fruit is sliced.  These pips are essential and used for the pectin that is released to help set the marmalade.



Marmellata di Mandarini (Mandarin Marmalade)
This makes a relatively small batch that you will find easy to handle. If you love marmalade like me, just make several small batches and experiment with the additional flavours. 
Makes 3 x 500 g jars

Ingredients:
1 kg nova or honey murcott mandarins (preferably organic)
1 kg sugar 
1 lt water 
muslin square with pips from mandarin 
60 ml vin cotto 


It's important to use well cleaned and sterilized jars when storing preserved food.  I thoroughly wash, rinse and then place my jars and lids in a saucepan filled with water, ensuring the jars are submerged and bring them to the boil. Continue boiling for 10 minutes and keep in hot water until ready to use.  Drain thoroughly and allow drying.  Alternatively you can place your clean jars with their lids upturned in a 110 oven to sterilise them for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven off and allow them to sit there until you are ready to fill them.  Also place a plate in the fridge for testing the set of the marmalade.

Wash mandarins before cutting them.  Cut the fruit in half through the centre vertically, remove any pips and place them in the muslin square, tie securely and set aside. Continue to slice the fruit 2 mm in thickness so you end up with half-moon slices.  Place the cut fruit in a medium sized saucepan, along with 1 litre of water and the muslin bag containing the pips – this can be tied to the pan handle with a piece of kitchen string.

Heat the mixture and add the sugar, stirring until it is fully dissolved. Then stir the mixture every 15 minutes and allow it to boil until it reduces substantially and the syrup thickens. Test the marmalade for a set by placing a teaspoon full of it on the cold plate that you have removed from the fridge. The marmalade will be set when it does not appear runny when cooled.  If the marmalade is not yet set, allow it to cook a further 10 minutes.  When the marmalade is ready, remove from the heat and stir in the vin cotto

Pour the marmalade in the previously sterilised jars leaving a small gap of about 5mm from the top. Seal the jars with the sterilised lids while the marmalade is still hot.  This will cause a suction as the contents cool down and form a seal allowing you to keep the marmalade for up to a year or more.

Enjoy the marmalade on some crusty fresh bread or use it as a filling for this Ricotta & Mandarin Tart I baked a few weeks back.  

Enjoy!


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Ricotta & Mandarin Tart (Crostata di Ricotta e Mandarini)






Lately I have been totally consumed with my work commitments and any spare time I have managed to find I have tried to spend in the garden enjoying our spring weather and in the kitchen doing what I love.  I have been preserving some of those beautiful winter mandarins from my parent’s garden and making marmalade. The recipe to this preserve will be shared as part of this month’s Cucina Conversations round table, so stay tuned for the end of this month where we will discuss preserving our season’s fare and put forward various recipes.

So apart from lavishly spreading this mandarin marmalade on my sourdough for breakfast, I decided to use some of it in this ricotta tart whose recipe I came across in Delicious Magazine.  It's a crostata (tart) that sings out Sicily in all its glory with the use of ricotta, citrus fruit and pine nuts. I substituted the orange marmalade they suggested with my mandarin & vin cotto marmalade , adding a sweeter more caramelized note. You can definitely use store bought marmalade for this recipe and am certain it will taste just as amazing.  

What drew me to this recipe though is the tarts base. I am always in search of sweet shortcrust pastry recipes that are easy to make and don't fail me.  I loved working with this pastry as it easily came together and was a joy to roll out without it crumbling apart. It uses a whole egg, which means you don't need to throw out the whites or feel compelled to save them for another recipe.  Icing sugar is used instead of caster sugar, which I think helps the dough stay together, also making the texture silky soft and allowing the sugar to absorb the butter making it less greasy. Once chilled, it is quite easy to roll out too. The pastry is then blind baked and perfect to use any sweet filling of choice without collapsing. 


Ricotta & Mandarin Tart (Crostata di Ricotta e Mandarini)
Recipe adapted from Delicious Magazine

Ingredients:

Tart Base:
1 1/3 cups (200g) plain flour
1/3 cup (50g) icing sugar, plus extra to dust
100g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
Grated zest of 3 mandarins or 1 organic orange, plus 3 tablespoons of mandarin or orange juice
1 egg
½ cup mandarin or orange marmalade
30g pine nuts

Filling:
350g fresh ricotta
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
1 tablespoon mandarin or orange juice
2 eggs

Process the flour, icing sugar, butter and half the zest in a food processor to combine.  Add egg and juice, and process until mixture forms a smooth ball. Enclose in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.


Grease a 24 cm round loose-bottomed tart pan. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board until 3mm thick, then use to line prepared tin, trimming to fit. Using a fork, prick the dough and chill for 15 minutes.


Preheat oven to 180 C. Line pastry with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Blind-bake pastry for 10 minutes, then removes paper weights or rice and bake for 5 minutes. Cool slightly.


Process the filling ingredients with remaining zest in food processor to combine. Spread marmalade over pastry, and then cover with ricotta filling. Sprinkle pine nuts and finely grate some mandarin or orange rind over the top. Bake for 20 minutes until filling is starting to set and turn golden at edges. Cool slightly before removing from the pan. Serve dusted with icing sugar. 

Enjoy!





Friday, 29 September 2017

Cucina Conversations: Pizzette Montanare (Fried Pizzette)


After school snacks for my girls growing up consisted of fruit, a tub of yogurt or crackers with their favourite spread, and occasionally sweet muffins of some sort.  On the occasion that my parents would pick them up from their early school years, they were treated to their favourite pane e olio - fresh crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.  When mamma had the oven going, it was pizza bianca, and if their cousins were also over, she would make what they fondly refer to as nonna’s donuts - fried pizza dough coated in sugar and cinnamon.  This was also my favourite childhood treat along with its savoury counterpart, pizzette montanare.  Now, I have to confess that I have never made these pizzette for my family until now and have been accused of depriving them of the best snack ever.   So this is the recipe I’ll be sharing with you as my contribution to our 12th edition of Cucina Conversations dedicated to 'la merenda'.  

Many would share my sentiments that there is nothing more satisfying than fried dough; whether it's sprinkled with sugar in the form of zeppole, filled and turned into calzoncini (dough circles that are folded and sealed to contain a savoury or sweet filling) or topped with a simple sauce and called pizzette montanare. Credit must be given to the Neapolitan's ingenuity for coming up with varied ways of using pizza dough, which dates as far back as the 1800’s.  Pizzaioli (pizza makers) would take leftover dough home to their family to fry and top them with a bit of leftover sugo (sauce) and a grating of hard salty cheese. It was an ingenious way of cooking dough using very hot oil as a heat transfer for those who didn’t have a wood-burning oven at home. Today, montanara forms part of the traditional street food culture in the Campania region of Italy along with other fried pizzas of Naples, better known as pizze fritte.  As the name suggests, they are fried rather than oven baked, rendering them soft on the inside with a thin crisp coating on the outside; light and unbelievably addictive. 

Story has it that pizza montanara took its name from the Italian word montagna – mountain, and considered a Neapolitan symbol of one of the most famous volcanoes in the world - Mount Vesuvius.  The parallel lies in the formation of craters and peaks when the flattened pizza dough swells while dipped into boiling oil.  When fried, it takes on the golden colour of the sunlit slopes of Mount Vesuvius which once caused Pompeii‘s destruction during the eruption in 79 A.D. The hot red tomato sauce spooned on top is said to represent the lava descending from its peak; the grated cheese like the white ash falling during its volcanic eruptions; and finally the green leaf of fresh basil symbolizing the fertility of volcanic soil.  From this analogy we can see not only the ingredients used but also their placement in the formation of this iconic pizza.

The dough mixed for these pizzette is very different to that of pizza.  It has a high hydration and therefore more like a focaccia base that is soft, light and airy, allowing it to swell and bubble when fried.  The soft dough is gently stretched and formed into shape using your hands rather than flattened with a rolling pin.   As you form each round, they are fried in hot oil until lightly golden on both sides, preferably in light and not so rich oil such as canola or vegetable oil.  Traditionally they are fried to a light golden colour as they would further brown in the oven later on once the toppings have been added; however as the sauce topping is customarily already cooked this step can be omitted. The traditional cooked sauce used on these pizzette is the marinara.

Although we have grown accustomed to the creative freedom in choice of what we add on top of our pizza, purists consider there to be only two true pizza toppings — the marinara and the margherita. The marinara being the older of the two is known to have a topping of crushed tinned tomatoes, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, while the margherita, said to be invented in 1889 in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy, is graced by puréed tomato, slices of mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. 

There is another notable difference with these pizzette; while a traditional pizza uses puréed raw tomato, the former mentioned is made with cooked traditional marinara sauce. Its name (literal translation of mariner), is believed to have derived from the food prepared by the mariner’s wife for her seafaring husband when he returned from fishing trips in the Bay of Naples. When exactly did this name come in use remains obscure, however what can be said for sure is that an Italian-style marinara sauce has rather less than more ingredients and known to be a great base sauce for other popular dishes cooked over time.  

These little Neapolitan style pizzas are best served while hot but also delicious at room temperature. Apart from being a great snack, fried pizzette make wonderful finger food to accompany an aperitivo.  And with summer just around the corner, it is one way of enjoying a home made pizza without having to turn on a hot oven.



Pizzette Montanare (Fried Pizzette)
Makes 25 small pizzette

Ingredients:
For Sauce
400 g tinned crushed roma tomato
4 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic (sliced, not crushed, and then removed before using)
2 tsp dried or fresh oregano
salt to taste
parmesan or any other hard salty cheese (optional), freshly grated
basil leaves to garnish

For Dough
500 g all-purpose flour
7 g instant dried yeast
250 ml tepid water
1 tps salt
1 tps sugar

For Shallow or Deep Frying
canola or vegetable oil

Montanara Sauce
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, the sliced garlic clove, oregano and stir well. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat  for 30 minutes until fragrant. Season the sauce to taste and remove the garlic before serving.

Pizzette Dough 
To prepare the dough, place the flour into a large mixing bowl along with the salt, making a well in the centre. In a cup add the yeast, sugar and tepid water and allow it to activate after stirring.  Add the activated yeast into the centre of the well. Use your hands to mix the flour in large circular motions.  The dough mixture is generally a little stickier than traditional pizza dough, so if the dough appears too dry then add more tepid water. This process can be done using a stand mixer, however hand mixing allows one to most easily and accurately gauge when dough has reached what Italians call 'il punto di pasta' - the perfect texture and consistency for pizza dough. Once reached, then a stretching and folding motion is used to create a light and airy dough, so using lightly oiled hands will assist with this process.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm draft-free space to rest for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.  The dough will appear light and full of air bubbles.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan until very hot. Use oiled hands to break off small portions the size of a mandarin and stretch into small flat circles. Carefully place the portion in the hot oil and cook until golden in colour, rotating frequently with a fork to cook both sides evenly. Repeat the process, and once each pizzetta is fried, they are placed on some paper towels to drain. Top with hot marinara sauce, add a grating of parmigiano or pecorino cheese and garnish with some fresh basil leaves. Enjoy!















Here we are, exactly one year on since our inaugural Cucina Conversations posts went live.  It has been a fun year consisting of monthly researching, cooking and writing dedicated to recipes and related stories; Each told by seven food bloggers with different perspectives but sharing the same passion for Italian cuisine. Join our celebrations and continue to follow our journey into the subsequent year with more exciting topics and recipes scheduled.  So now, whether it's a snack for after school or for all who need something to tie them over until their next meal, here are the rest of the recipes shared: 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Cucina Conversations: Limoncello - Lemon Liqueur



The enjoyment of having a pre-dinner drink to whet my appetite, or as Italians would say - un aperitivo per stuzzicare l'appetito, is very much a tradition I experienced while holidaying in Italy. A quintessential Italian concept in step with their dolce vita and spirit that enabled me to connect with family and friends on my whirlwind visit. What grew in popularity in my parent’s and many Italian households here in Australia however, and what I am more accustomed to, is its sister drinks – digestivi (digestives). An excuse to extend the evening that little bit longer, a digestive is offered along with a few biscotti or walnuts placed on the table, perhaps a game of cards all in the best tradition of Italian hospitality. Digestives as the name suggests, are predominantly served to aid digestion and a lovely way of concluding a meal, but also known to be offered as a welcome drink served as small shots and sipped due to their high level content of alcohol. Their flavours are complex mixtures of herbs, roots, barks, berries, spices, flowers and citrus peels.  They are not overly sweet, and due to their general bitterness, are classified as amari

This month’s Cucina Conversations topic is based around these two Italian rituals which play an important role in Italian social life. It is not only expressed through drinks but also related finger foods.   So while Italy is enduring a very hot summer and enjoying many aperitivi to remain cool before dinner, I’m dabbling in a little limoncello (lemon liqueur) making to serve as either a welcome drink or a digestive. I thought I would also share a recipe for sweet limoncetti that I will be making again to be enjoyed with this liqueur, in welcoming the long awaited spring in a few weeks and an upcoming family birthday.
The cristalliera (crystal cabinet) is where my parents have always kept their favourite and prized liqueur bottles, preserved cherries in grappa, or the bitter herbal amari such as the intensely flavoured amaro lucano from their region of Basilicata, the centerba, fernet as well as cynar.  And did I mention that mysteriously clear spirit in a non labelled bottle known as home-made grappa, that only in my adult years I came to learn of its origins?  

So the story goes like this, my father would make his wine and the vinacce (pressed grape skins) would be passed onto his friend or my uncle who would distil it into this fiery spirit.  A bottle would then be gifted back as a thank you gesture to be used either in preserving cherries or sipped neat in good company and even added to the after dinner espresso known as caffe’ corretto. These age old traditions were passed on but have slowly faded with time and may I add, these were processes undertaken correctly. Making grappa at home is now illegal in Australia and known to be deadly if not produced correctly, so I don’t encourage any serious home brewing of this kind.  But a liqueur such as a limoncello is one that is very simple to make and well within the legal realm.  

Most famously associated and produced from Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and the island of Capri but popular throughout all of Italy, limoncello is also often made at home from steeping lemon peel in grain alcohol until the oil is released, and then sweetened with sugar syrup.  It has an intensely fresh citrus flavour and the degree of sweetness is adjusted depending on the base alcohol used. Papa` had his first taste of home-made limoncello made from those lemons found along the Costiera Amalfitana. This coastal road between the port city of Salerno and cliff top Sorrento winds past cliff side lemon groves; lemons that are ideal for this liqueur due to their thick uneven skin.  My cousin’s wife from Salerno had made her own bottles and served it chilled after a meal at a family gathering.  It was here that she shared the recipe, and inspired papa` to make his own using lemons from his tree and what would be the last of this grappa. 


Notes on alcohol used:
The basics of the recipe are super easy but the only problem is that it needs a very high proof of alcohol content. Limoncello is normally made with a grain alcohol, but this recipe substitute’s with vodka or grappa, as it is more readily available.  It is not possible to obtain pure alcohol here in Australia and have read that in certain areas of North America, pure alcohol can only be sold to professionals who have a special license.  If you reside in Italy however, you may have better luck. Not only is it more accessible but cheaper in price as well.  

Grappa is an alcoholic beverage, a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 per cent alcohol by volume.  Papa` made his limoncello with home brewed grappa; it's alcohol level was unknown. I made mine with store bought vodka and conclude that the grappa based is superior but vodka still makes a pretty good limoncello. When selecting the vodka that you are going to use, the higher the proof, the more lemon flavour your finished brew will have. Alternatively, leave the lemon in the alcohol to infuse double the time, and halve the amount of sugar syrup.

Notes on lemons:
When choosing the lemons, it’s extremely important to go for the highest possible quality. The best lemons are medium to large, with an elliptical shape and a thick peel such as the Lisbon or Eureka. The lemons must be untreated as the peel is what will be used, so organic lemons are the best. Any pesticides or even just waxing (commonly applied to help preserve the citrus’ moisture) would end up in the finished product.

 Limoncello (Lemon Liqueur)

Ingredients:
  •    250 ml of pure alcohol (95 per cent proof) or grappa (35 to 60 per cent proof) or        vodka (40 per cent proof)
  •    5 untreated (organic) lemons
  •    400 g white sugar (200 g if using grappa or vodka)
  •    250 ml  water (125 ml if using grappa or vodka)

Preparation:

Gently scrub the lemons under running water, and then carefully remove the outer yellow coloured part of the peel using a vegetable peeler. The white pith has a bitter flavour and needs to be discarded.  

The next step is to soak the lemon peel in the alcohol. Pour the alcohol in a glass jar with lid that can be closed tightly. Add the lemon peel, seal and then keep in a cool dark place for 5 days if using a vodka or grappa base, and half the amount of time for pure alcohol. The aromatic oils will gradually dissolve in the alcohol, which will turn yellow and fragrant.

Prepare the sugar syrup (according to alcohol base quantities given above) by bringing together the water and sugar and heat gently until dissolved, then let it cool off. Filter the alcohol to remove the macerated peel, and then add it to the syrup. Pour the mix of syrup and flavoured alcohol in a favourite glass bottle and seal. 

Limonello is served chilled, and can be kept for up to 2 years in the fridge or even longer in the freezer as the high percentage of alcohol will prevent it from freezing. There are several recipes for aperitivi I have also come across using limoncello such as the Cocktail - Limoncello & Prosecco that I'll be trying during the summer months ahead. But before we drink a toast (fare un brindisi), there are some limoncetti sweets that also deserve a mention below.

Limoncetti

Limoncello was used as one of the ingredients in making these amaretti – technically no longer amaretti as the name suggests, as the bitter almond essence was replaced with the limoncello and grated lemon peel.   This is an adaptation of my mother in laws amaretti recipe.  Makes 30

Ingredients:
  •  250 g almond meal
  •  150 g caster sugar
  •  2 egg whites
  •  ½ liqueur glass of limoncello
  •  grated zest of one lemon
  •  icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 C (160 C fan forced) and line tray with baking paper. In a bowl, mix together almond meal, caster sugar and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add the limoncello and mix through. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with the egg whites until combined.  The mixture should be firm but of a sticky consistency.

Add icing sugar in a separate bowl. Roll walnut sized amount of mixture into balls and coat in the icing sugar.

Place each ball on the tray, leaving some space between. They will not grow in size when baked, but will slightly puff and cracks will appear on the surface.

Bake for 10 minutes until just lightly coloured. They should not be overcooked as this will harden them. They should be slightly crusty on the outside and moist in the centre when cooled.

Join the rest of my fellow bloggers and check out their suggested aperitivi. Rosemary at Turin Mamma will share two respective recipes for negroni - the true and the less alcoholic cocktail drink known as the negroni sbagliato, while Francesca at Pancakes and Biscotti will make her polpette di melanzane as an aperitivo snack. Daniela at La Dani Gourmet will pair a glass of Bolgheri Rosato wine with some delicious marinated anchovies known as acchiughe alla povera, while Lisa at Italian Kiwi will make some mouth watering crostini with ricotta, figs and prosciutto; and Marialuisa at Marmellata di Cipolle will surprise us with some delicious finger food and talk about a prosecco made in Calabria.

Cin cin!