I remember my initial sip of homemade Limoncello. It was my very first small batch infusion, and after 40 days of marinating, the cordial's big reveal was at a backyard picnic with all my European friends. I suppose I'm the risky type.
I felt that my version tasted better than the store-bought kind; it used all organic ingredients, but the final call would be made by all my friends, including three Italians loyal to their mommas' recipes.
One staunch southern Italian, determined to share the truth, said, "This is not right. It's just too good." His momma's Limoncello always offered a strong burn as it went down. He poured himself shot after shot, blaming my version's perfection.
Without access to pure grain alcohol, I had used vodka as my base. He said the vodka conspired to keep him wanting more. And the hue, more like thick olive oil due to the organic cane sugar, made him miss his family's olive groves.
In those moments, complimented and critiqued in the same breath, I still felt like a superhero. And I still use vodka, infusing it with all kinds of fruity and herbal finds ever since.
Limoncello always ends a backyard picnic perfectly, but I knew that a basil variety would delight a die-hard basil fan like me and everyone else in my Italian-loving circle. This version is strong but adds a punch to the end of a meal and just the right sort of strength to a scoop of delicate lemon sorbet.
More: Like herbaceous drinks? Try this on for size.
2 1/2 cups vodka 50 basil leaves (organic is best) 1/2 cup sugar
Pour vodka into a sealable, sterilized jar, and set aside. Use a jar with a seal that doesn't have metal in the lining. (If the only jar you have has a metal lining, then have a large piece of parchment paper handy to place between the jar and the seal.)
Boil water in a pot over high heat. Set up an ice cold water bath close to the stove.
Clean basil leaves with a damp paper towel, paying attention to the underside of the leaves where dirt may hide. Blanch the basil leaves in the boiling water for 1 minute. Transfer leaves to the ice cold water bath for 1 minute. Drain leaves in a tight mesh strainer, gently squeezing to remove extra water.
Place the leaves into the jar of vodka. Cover and let sit in a cool, dark place for 1 week, shaking every other day.
After a week, the infusion should take on an olive-green hue. Drain the vodka and discard the basil leaves.
Make a quick simple syrup of the sugar and 1/2 cup of water -- boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. Add the simple syrup to the basil-infused vodka. Your Basil-cello is ready to drink immediately, but tastes better after a little more time in a cool, dark place. Serve it ice cold.