Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homemade Italian Liqueurs

Over the course of 2011 we will explore a number of different Italian liqueur recipes. Some of these recipes include familiar ingredients, such as citrus and herbs. Other recipes contain unique ingredients, such as green walnuts. And one recipe uses an ingredient that surprised me: fresh milk.

The American edition of Larousse Gastronomique defines a liqueur as “an alcoholic drink of more than tablewine strength, usually incorporating some form of spirit.” Although accurate, for our inquery this definition is too narrow. We will focus on infusing ingredients in a neutral alcohol that contains added sugar.

Commercially made liqueurs abound. Some of these products are good, but most have no soul. Homemade liqueurs made with quality ingredients are better than their commercial counterparts. Likewise, certain Italian liqueurs are difficult to find outside of Italy. If you want to try Nocino (made with green walnuts) or Latte di Vecchia (Old Lady’s Milk, made with fresh milk and citrus) you might need to make your own. Luckily, creating these homemade liqueurs is easy and a delicious way to take advantage of seasonal offerings.

A recently translated Italian regional cookbook published by Oronzo Editions features a number of Italian liqueur recipes. The book written by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante and translated into English by Natalie Danford is entitled Puglia - A Culinary Memoir [2008]. This excellent book is worth seeking out and adding to your cookbook collection. We will use this book as a springboard for our inquiry.

Ferrante writes that there is a long tradition of preparing homemade liqueurs in Southern Italy. “Having liqueurs around meant the host could always offer ‘a little glass’ of something to drink. In fact, the word bicchierino, which literally means ‘little glass’ is synonymous with liqueurs.”

All of my cookbooks on the food of Puglia speak to this region’s gracious hospitality. Ferrante reports that during a special occasion, such as a wedding or baptism, a host would serve rounds of liqueurs to guests. “To make clear that the refreshments were abundant and varied, a different color of liqueur was offered to the guests on each round.”

I hope you enjoy this upcoming series. If you decide to try out a recipe or two, I encourage you to share the fruits of your labor with those with whom you enjoy to Bunbury.