24 June 2010


Picking lemons on the Amalfi Coast

SARONNO, Italy - It’s summer in Saronno. There is plenty of sunshine and the trees in park cool the soft breezes that pass through my apartment windows and balconies. Life is easy. On my kitchen table there’s a big basket stacked with lemons that I bought at the market this week. Some are smooth, bright yellow ovals, the picture perfect type from Sicily, while others are twice as big and knobby with thick mottled yellow skins typical of the lemons from the Amalfi Coast. They are called Sfusato Almafitano.

The origin of lemon cultivation on the Amalfi Coast has been lost in the annals of time, but most certainly lemons were one of the treasures of the Republic of Amalfi before the year 1,000. In its heyday the Republic traded textiles and precious stones with the countries of the Middle East, and it has been verified that one of the things they imported were small, yellow fruits called lemoncello de India. The local farmers began to cross pollinate the lemoncello de India with the bitter oranges that grew in the area. Over time, centuries actually, this cross pollination resulted in the Sfusato of Amalfi sitting in the basket on my kitchen table today.

The Italians believe whole heartily in the health benefits of lemons. In addition to being a rich source of vitamin C, they believe fresh lemons help combat stress, stimulate the immune system and are a cure for the common cold. They may be right.
The Amalfi Coast
The Sfusati grow on the steep terraced hills along the Tyrrhenaian Sea from Positano to Vietri sul Mare, a territory of no more than 700 acres. With their exceptional aroma and flavor, they are widely used in the local cuisine. The house specialties at Ristorante Donna Rosa in Positano include an antipasto of raw artichokes with lemon, caramelle of fresh pasta filled with lobster and lemon, and ravioli with lemon and ricotta.

And it’s not just the lemon juice and pulp that is used. At Albergo Ristorante Bacco in Furore, they still follow the ancient tradition of cooking food in lemon leaves. Some of the dishes they offer are grilled smoked provola wrapped in lemon leaves, rabbit roasted in lemon leaves and home-made tagliolini in lemon sauce. But other than being a principle ingredient in the kitchen, Sfusato Almafitano are the basis of that delicious, sweet liqueur, limoncello that is enjoyed after dinner during the warm summer months.

Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast

In surfing the web this morning I found this video of Miami chef John DiRicco making limoncello in his kitchen. I liked his straight forward approach and thought you might like it too. My only point of contention with Chef DiRicco is that here in Italy small glasses of limoncello are sipped and savored after dinner, not thrown back as he does on the video but, to each his own.

12-16 lemons, preferably organic and unwaxed
1 bottle Everclear alcohol (or good grade vodka)
1 bottle of water (use the Everclear bottle)
1-1 ½ cups sugar

It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to do the initial preparation (mainly peeling the lemons and shaving out the bitter white pith.) You can also do the prep work gradually, doing two lemons at a time and tossing them in the alcohol, until all of the lemons are done. The peels should ferment a minimum of three weeks.The more of the white lemon pith that you leave, the more bitter the limoncello will taste.

The type of sugar affects the color of the limoncello. For John’s “limoncello naturale,” use a darker raw cane sugar.

If you can’t get a hold of Everclear, you can use ½ Grey Goose vodka and ½ Absolut. For a poor man’s version, strain cheaper vodka though your Brita pitcher 3 or 4 times.

Store your limoncello in the freezer.

It should be completely liquid. If it’s slushy, you used too much water.

And here’s a recipe for Lemon Risotto with Sautéed Shrimp I found at: cooksrecipes.com

Lemon Risotto with Shrimp


1/4 cup, divided use2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice or other short-grain white rice
4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 teaspoons vegetable base or instant bouillon granules
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan. Add oil, onion and lemon peel; cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in rice; cook for 1 minute. Stir in water, wine, lemon juice, bouillon and pepper. Cover; cook gently over medium-low heat for 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in cheese; stirring occasionally.
2. Melt remaining butter in medium skillet. Cook shrimp over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until pink. Serve shrimp over risotto; sprinkle with Gremolata.
3. For Gremolata: Combine 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic,
4. 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley and 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel in small bowl.

Makes 4 servings.
Buon appetito.

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