Last year Michael had a business trip that took him to Naples, Italy for the very first time. Needless to say he was very excited about the trip and sought all sorts of advice on local foods to try, and everyone familiar with the area told him he could not leave Naples without trying the limoncello, a lemon liqueur. He came home from his trip enthused about all the different foods he enjoyed and he was stoked about the limoncello and arancello (orange liqueur), but his favorite was the arancello. Listening to him describe the food made me feel a little bit envious, but hopefully someday I'll have an opportunity to visit the famous city and other parts of Campania.
Arancello/limoncello is a traditional liqueur from Southern Italy, and it's easy and inexpensive to make, requiring only citrus fruit, vodka or a neutral grain spirit such as Everclear or Gem Clear, sugar, and water. You shave the peel off the oranges and soak them in the alcohol for seven days, strain, then mix with the sugar syrup. The liqueur is usually stored in the freezer but the alcohol content prevents it from freezing solid, so it's drinkable. The higher alcohol content in neutral grain spirits draws out more of the orange oils than vodka, imparting more flavor to the liqueur; however, neutral grain spirits are not sold in some states and might even be illegal in your state, so check your state's liquor laws before having a friend run it across the state line for you.
With citrus in season, this is a great time of year to make arancello or limoncello. We keep several bottles on hand in the freezer, and though we enjoy it straight out of a shot glass, our favorite way to sip is with a little half & half poured in, which makes it taste like a very adult Creamsicle. We also tried it with eggnog at Christmas and really enjoyed that combination, and we even made a champagne cocktail with limoncello for New Years Eve.
Use the freshest fruit, which will have more oils in the skin, thus increasing the flavor. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, and peel carefully so that none of the bitter white pith is on the pieces. You can also zest into fine strips instead.
To make it gluten free, choose a certified gluten-free vodka.
Arancello and Limoncello (Orange and Lemon Liqueur)
- vegetable peeler
- 1 or 2 large glass or ceramic containers with lids (canning jars work well)
- 6 quart pot
- 4 leftover 750 ml wine bottles, cleaned and sterilized, with corks or stoppers
- 750 ml neutral grain spirit (95%/190 proof, or vodka 40%/80 proof)
- 4 pounds oranges (organic is best, or other citrus such as lemon or blood orange)
- 6 ⅓ cups filtered water
- 6 ½ cups granulated sugar
Soak the Orange/Lemon Peels
- Scrub the fruit with a vegetable brush to remove any dirt and other undesirable elements (i.e. pesticides if you chose not to use organic).
- Carefully peel the fruit, making sure not to include any of the white pith. (It will make your cello bitter.) Juice the fruit and save for another use.
- Put the peels in the bottom of the container(s). Pour in the alcohol and cover. Allow to rest for seven days in a cool, dark location. I keep mine in the cupboard.
- Make this in the morning of the eighth day or the night before. In the 6 quart pot, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a fast simmer, not boil, and let it sit for 15 minutes, until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- On the eighth day, strain the orange peels from the alcohol and discard. Pour the alcohol into the pot with the sugar syrup and stir. (If you use Everclear, the mixture will turn cloudy, but this will not negatively affect the flavor.) Pour into the prepared wine bottles, cork, and store in the refrigerator or freezer. You should allow it to rest for about a month for fullest flavor.