Pass the limoncello please
We had been in Rome less than 24 hours and I was in heaven.
When I was a wander-lusting teenager, I’d remembered strolling through the calendar aisle in the Barnes and Noble back home, my fingertips always pausing on the Italian calendars. I would close my eyes, wistfully dreaming of what it would be like to visit Italy. Pisa, the Duomo of Florence, the hectic and crazy bustle of Rome and the calm beauty of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. I could almost hear the traffic, the beeping of mopeds as they zipped around taxi drivers, the oregano-scented air. The endless bowls of pasta. I wasn’t sure when, or how – but I knew in the marrow of my bones, one day … I would be in Italy.
But in all of my imagining, limoncello had never factored into my dreams. And now that I was finally in Italy, my husband and I realized we had a very big problem. We had no idea what to do with the rather sizable bottle of limoncello that had just been proudly presented to our table.
We’d found a tiny, hole-in-the-wall place a few blocks from our hotel and decided it was perfect for dinner. After doing the Caesar Shuffle through the multitude of Rome’s ancient sights – which included a frenzied tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and more – we were absolutely famished.
We wolfed down antipasti, delicate olives, cheeses, two large bowls of pasta each and split a bottle of red wine.
Then the limoncello came.
My husband and I are anything, if not stubborn – two fiercely independent souls who love figuring things out on our own – so we quietly looked around to see what other people were doing with their limoncello. Several tables sported tiny cups of espresso and dessert, while a few others were still mid-meal with their bottles of wine. Then we spotted our savior. A very happy table in the back was laughing, and we noticed their empty pasta plates. Good sign – they’re finished with dinner. Surely, they had been given limoncello too.
Our hearts (and stomachs) sank, as we watched one of the men in the four-person group pour the last dregs of their bottle of limoncello into the small little ceramic cups provided.
I looked to my husband. “When in Rome?” I asked.
We were worried we’d offend our gracious hosts if we too didn’t drink our entire bottle of limoncello. They had so proudly presented their house-made brew to us, and with such flourish – how could we say no?
I drank a cup. My husband drank a cup. It was bright, sweet, zesty and very lemony – like an adult’s version of lemonade. With a kick.
The glasses were small, so we each helped ourselves to a second. Although still good, it didn’t go down as smoothly as the first round. We casually looked toward the kitchen, making eye contact with an elderly, but very spritely gentleman whom we believed to be the owner. He offered an excited thumbs up, his bushy-white wizard eyebrows raised, mouthing, “It’s good, yea?”
We had no choice. We nodded and returned the thumbs up.
“You’re going to have to take one for the team,” I whispered to my husband. I’d eaten so much pasta, there was simply nowhere for the limoncello to go.
“I can’t drink all of this!” he hissed back.
So we tried again. I drank a cup. My husband drank a cup. The potted plant next to us drank two cups. It had been a hot day we reasoned and the potted plant was probably pretty thirsty, so as nonchalantly as possible, we slowly poured cup after cup of limoncello into the potting soil, waiting for the lemon firewater to soak in, before giving it another dose.
Tummies gurgling, as well as the plant next to us, we signaled for the bill. In seconds, Signore Bushy Eyebrows zipped over and presented the bill on a silver tray. We beamed as he picked up the empty bottle of limoncello, and seemed to regard us with wonder, before finally settling on, “Che bello!”
My husband and I locked eyes in solidarity and pride. We’d done it!
We didn’t know the Italian custom is to drink as much, or as little, limoncello that you want – then it’s perfectly acceptable to pass the limoncello along.
When in Rome, remember, it’s also ok to just ask!
When not attempting to drink the entire bottle, limoncello is actually a delightful and incredibly versatile cocktail. For 25 limoncello cocktail ideas, click here or try this recipe for a knock your socks off limoncello cheesecake.