Limoncello is a strong, sunny, lemon-infused Italian liqueur, usually enjoyed as a digestif, or post-dinner drink. Recipes often differ on: what type of alcohol (high-proof grain alcohol or vodka) and how much sugar. This recipe opts for vodka and a modest amount of sugar. I know, I know—it seems like there's a lot, but some recipes use four times this amount! Adding black pepper is another way to cut the sweetness and incorporate some subtle spice, which I really love in a digestif. Note: The peppercorns will deepen the color of the limoncello. If you want, you can bundle them in a sachet, pull them after a couple days, then let the lemon peels keep doing their thing. And be sure to seek out organic lemons—and wash well—since the infusing process draws out everything from the peels. —Emma Laperruque
Peel the lemon zest with a vegetable peeler into thick strips, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Add those and the peppercorns to a big glass jar with a lid. Add the vodka and stir. Close the jar.
Infuse at room temperature—preferably a cool, shady spot like a cupboard—for at least 5 days or up to 1 month. The general rule is: The longer, the lemonier. We infused for 1 week and loved the flavor.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the lemon peels to get every last drop. In a separate bowl, combine the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. Add to the strained lemon vodka.
Store in the fridge or freezer (my preference). Drink straight-up or on the rocks.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.