When Life Gives Him Lemons, Carlo Dozzi Makes Limoncello | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

When Life Gives Him Lemons, Carlo Dozzi Makes Limoncello

Carlo Dozzi lifts a glass cookie jar from a shelf and points at the tangle of lemon peels sloshing inside. 

"You can see ... the alcohol is starting to turn yellow," says Dozzi, raising the jar to the light. 

This is his latest batch of homemade limoncello (pronounced "lee-mon-CHELL-oh") -- the famed southern Italian, lemon-flavored liqueur. Limoncello is a rosolio, or Italian liqueur fashioned from herbs or fruits. Along Italy's Amalfi Coast, where it supposedly originated, it's typically served as an after-dinner digestif, chilled or on the rocks. 

Dozzi -- a first-generation Italian American who owns an Italian import store, Buon Sapore, in SouthSide Works -- has been making limoncello for years. His recipe is simple. It begins with six or seven lemons, which must be firm, fresh and un-bruised for maximum flavor. 

Peel the lemons with a sharp knife (peelers and zesters complicate straining) being careful not to take too much of the pith. Combine the peels with one quart of Everclear Grain Alcohol and let the flavors wed for six days. (If you wait any longer, Dozzi says, the mixture will turn bitter.) 

Then, strain the blend and combine with Dozzi's version of simple syrup -- 20 oz. of sugar dissolved in two quarts of simmering water. You'll have roughly four standard, 45-proof bottles of homemade limoncello. You can, of course, cut proportions to yield less, but the limoncello will keep inside a freezer.

If you follow his instructions exactly, Dozzi claims, you'll have "the same as the Italians in Italy"; if you don't, you'll have "bad lemonade." 

Some people use the velvety liqueur to make icing for cakes or donuts. Try adding it to sparkling wine, or try Tony Abou-Ganim's "Serrano Cocktail": 1.5 oz. vodka; 1/2 oz. Campari; 1/2 oz. limoncello; 1.5 oz. fresh orange juice; garnish with a lime twist.

On this day, Dozzi (wearing a lemon-yellow sweater) removes the lid from the alcohol-lemon mixture, inhales and smiles.

"[It's] an absolutely beautiful smell," he says, "a fragrance that engulfs the whole room."