I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and that 2020 is a happy and healthy year for all.
For me, the holidays were busy. I had about 20 people over for dinner on Christmas Eve, including relatives I don’t typically see much during the year, so it’s always fun to catch up. I also attended several get-togethers.
As always, I collected recipes for the good things I ate and drank, including limoncello – a traditional Italian after-dinner drink made with lemon zest soaked in vodka and mixed with sugar syrup so it has a sweet-tart flavor after it has aged (I put mine in the closet).
Often, recipes recommend using Meyer lemons, which are bigger, sweeter and have a lighter floral fragrance than the typical lemons we buy, but any lemon will work. Or, substitute limes or oranges.
The recipe can be doubled or tripled, and the bottles given away as presents.
The recipe my friends used came from “Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing & Giving” by Emily Paster, a cookbook I already had, but I’d never paid attention to the limoncello. It made me realize I need to go back and re-read my cookbooks. Who knows how many gems I’ve missed.
I also scored a recipe for an Italian stew with olives and artichokes. The original, which I loved, uses chicken thighs, but I decided to splurge and try shrimp in the version I made.
The other ingredients include olives, Yukon Gold potatoes and artichokes, which are an interesting and tasty combination. You can serve it as a soup or stew, or cook down the sauce and use it as a topping for pasta, gnocchi or rice.
Italian Chicken Stew with Olives and Artichokes
1 pound boned, skinned chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon capers, drained and minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 (8-ounce) package thawed frozen artichoke hearts, quartered if large
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 cup green olives, pitted
Cut each chicken thigh into 2 or 3 chunks. In a resealable plastic bag, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Add chicken, seal, and shake to coat.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken (discard excess flour) in a single layer and cook, turning once, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic, capers and lemon zest, and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add wine and simmer, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add broth, potatoes and chicken, and return to a simmer.
Lower heat slightly to maintain simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
Add artichokes to pot and stir. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in parsley, lemon juice to taste and olives. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot, with lemon wedges on the side.
Makes about 3 (12-ounce) bottles.
6 large lemons, preferably Meyer
3 cups vodka, preferably 100 proof
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer rind from the lemons in long strips. If you peel too deeply and end up with white pith on the underside of the rind, scrape it off with a knife. You can also use a zester designed for peeling just the skin and not the pith.
Place the peels in a quart-size canning jar, and cover with vodka.
Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks. The longer the peels steep, the more pronounced the lemon flavor will be.
Once you have achieved the desired flavor, strain the vodka and discard the lemon peels. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of liquid.
In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water and heating over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Allow the simple syrup to cool to room temperature.
Combine 2 cups of the simple syrup with the vodka, and stir to combine. Taste and add more simple syrup, or water, as desired. More simple syrup will make for a sweeter finished product, while more water will make the limoncello smoother and milder.
Pour the limoncello into attractive glass bottles. A 12- or 8-ounce size usually works well. In a pinch, you can simply use canning jars.
Label the bottles, or decorate with a hanging tag. Store in the freezer, as limoncello should be served chilled.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Focus, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.