03.16.10: digestivo (is it limoncello?)


There’s something magical about taking a nondescript bottle of vodka and turning it into limoncello; that is, until you turn it into pompelmocello (or whatever the Italians call grapefruit peels steeped in alcohol and sugar syrup–I’m improvising here).  As lovely as lemons are, I’m one who can eat a few grapefruit in one sitting if the mood strikes…and if the quantity is before me.  It’s one of my favorite breakfast foods in winter; nothing brightens a grey day like slicing into a bright red, pink or white citrus fruit, no?  And really, given the warmer weather we’ve received this week after a weekend of awful wind and rain, sipping on a small glass of this felt like drinking in the glorious sun.

This recipe was cobbled together from several online recipes, with me obsessively doing factor-label conversions [Ed. – That’s the correct terminology, right Michael?] and recipe searches to figure out the correct proportions between vodka, citrus and simple syrup mix.  I’ll be honest: this is still a work in progress and isn’t exactly what I wanted, but the current results taste like a grapefruit in a glass–though not to be confused with a glass of grapefruit juice.  Ina Garten likes to talk about how the zest of a citrus fruit contains more of the real flavor of the fruit compared to the juice, and when you’ve steeped that zest in vodka for over two weeks you’re pretty much guaranteed that you will be walloped in the mouth with that flavor.

The real question is how much sweetness to add to this mix.  Michael hates an overly sweet liquor, and I can’t blame him–it’s much more refreshing to indulge in a crisper spirit with a higher alcohol content than one that is overly sweet and otherwise weak, and it’s why I will generally prefer a glass of Sambuca over one of anisette.  (The one exception to this rule is, of course, Campari–but that’s another installment on its own.)  Part of the reason why I let the zest steep so long was because I couldn’t find a proportion to the amount of vodka that I used that was satisfactory, and rather than overwhelm the mixture with sugar I let it sit in the fridge.  I finally decided on a 1:1 ratio of two cups warm water to sugar, but I think this may have been too much–for our next go at this, I think one and a half cups of water and sugar might be just enough.

The purists, of course, can have at me in the comments–in the meantime, here is our current recipe for pompelmocello:


Pompelmocello (Grapefruit Digestive Drink)

Makes enough for about a liter-sized bottle, though you may have to use another bottle or jar for a small amount of overfill

  • 1 750 mL bottle vodka (decent, but not super-premium)
  • 5 large grapefruit, zested with just the peel and none of the white pith
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • A pitcher or mason jar
  • A stopped 1 L bottle (such as this)

Add grapefruit zest and vodka to a pitcher or mason jar that is large enough to hold more than the entire bottle of vodka, seal and let sit for at least four days at room temperature and up to two weeks in the fridge, stirring the peels a little every few days.  Warm the water up in a medium-sized bowl in the microwave and stir in the sugar, whisking vigorously to combine. Allow time to cool slightly and then add to grapefruit and vodka, letting it steep for one more night. Strain contents into the bottle and store in the fridge.

Buon apetito! Or should I say:  Sláinte, as today is St. Patrick’s Day!

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. I am so making this! I love anything tart and grapefruit-y!!

  2. jillian says:

    Excellent! Lemons are a rarity but grapefruit we have in abundance! Hooray!

  3. Patty says:

    Ooh that looks yum, I tried Limoncello and I really liked so I can’t wait to try this grapefruit version out. Thanks for posting!

  4. Steve2inLA says:

    This is for “Kitchen Witch”. You should be aware that there is NO “tart” in any of these “cello” drinks. I’ve made Limoncello, Tequilarita (oranges, limes and tequila) and this week, I’ll start a batch of “Grapefruitcello”.

    The way you get some tart into these liqueurs is simple. After zesting the citrus for the ‘cello, juice the fruit and freeze it in ice cube trays. Then, when you’re ready to serve, put a couple of cubes in a glass and pour the ‘cello over it.

    Barring that, Schwepp’s Bitter Lemon is an acceptable alternative. Good luck!

  5. breakfast foods should always be high in protein and also in carbohydrates, we need food energy during the early morning `~;

  6. Kate B says:

    Have just taken my grapefruit peels out after an 18 month soak in vodka! I just put them in a cupboard and forgot about them. Incredible orange colour and fragrance. I’m going to experiment with sugar levels and make a couple of batches – and I don’t want to get rid of the peels! They smell fantastic!

  7. Kate B says:

    Change of plan. Not putting any sugar syrup in. Just had 30 ml of the straight grapefruit vodka with diet soda. Makes a wonderful bitters substitute! Found my new favourite drink!

    1. elizabeth says:

      I’m going to have to try this–one of my favorite summertime drinks is vodka with bitter lemon (a lemon-lime soda that isn’t too sweet) but it’s notoriously hard to find–this might be my new substitute!

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