And here we are again with the lemons. These days, they’ve taken the form of limonata, and lots of it. The stickier it gets in New York, the more of this we drink. There’s nothing quite as refreshing and evocative of summer pleasantness as a chilled glass of that ubiquitous sparkling Italian beverage.
With the stickiness here to stay, and our small fridge taxed by the heat, it was only a matter of time until it occurred to us to make a jarful of our own.
The thing with limonata –however– is that it’s not just a lemon simple syrup, as so many recipes out there imply. It’s intense. Sure, the San Pellegrino version is perhaps touch artificial in its intensity, but it’s supposed to be zesty and biting and sour and direct, with just enough sweetness and bubble to temper the sensation that one’s drinking a glass of straight-up lemon juice. It’s not the cloying-sweet-and-lemon-lite americanata that is lemonade, it’s lemonade with bitter Italian flair, and we can’t get enough.
Allora! A bit of research, dozens of lemons and too much time at the stove, we’ve settled on a version we think is both autentico e delizioso. And, beautifully simple: just lemons, some sugar and a very important special ingredient…
A bit of time on the stove, a splash of sparkling water, and…
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup white sugar
5 juicy lemons, cut into halves
scant 1/4 cup sweet basil leaves
1. Bring water to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Give each lemon half a good squeeze into the pot, then toss the whole thing in — you want the rind here for that classic bitter limonata tasta! Add the basil, give it all a stir, and simmer uncovered over medium heat for 15 minutes.
2. Strain syrup into a bowl and cool to room temperature. If you have time, chill it as well, if not, simply pour over a tall glass with ice*, and top off with sparkling water**. Add a sprig of basil for garnish, and voilà!
*For good limonata intensity, opt for a half-half ratio.
** The “sharper” the bubbles in your sparkling water, the more authentic tasting your limonata will be. If you’re making your own seltzer, give it an extra push of carbonation.