Italy Roundtable: A Drink for All Seasons
We are celebrating our second holiday season with the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli (on temporary leave), art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, help yourself to some Christmas cookies, and join in on the conversation.
If there’s one thing that I love, it’s reward for hard work.
If there’s one thing that I love even more, it’s reward for pretty much doing nothing at all.
Which is why one of my favourite liqueurs to make—and I make quite a number—is bay liqueur. Super simple and quick (unlike, for example, Nocino, which is a pain in the ass to make and takes roughly three years), bay liqueur is a crowd pleaser: easy on the palate, nice in the summer chilled (or, my favourite, on top of ice-cream) and excellent in the winter straight up or to spike an espresso. It comes out a pretty color, too, so present it in an elegant glass bottle with a bit of ribbon and you’ve got yourself a perfect hostess gift for the holidays.
Follow this monkey-proof recipe and watch the kudos pour in. It’s satisfying. Trust me.
Bay Liqueur: The Recipe. Annotated.
Okay, so the one trick to this recipe is that you must use FRESH bay leaves. I had no idea what fresh bay might look like (my previous experience with bay was a small plastic jar of greyish, brittle leaves on my mother’s 1970’s spice rack, which I duly added to stews when following the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook) until I moved into a house in the Italian countryside with an immense bay bush growing in the front yard. And I only put into focus what type of bush it was the first time I pruned it and the intoxicating perfume of fresh bay hung over the garden for hours. (Never smelled fresh bay? It’s the most delicious scent EVEH. I have a tick every time I pass through my front yard of picking off a leaf and rubbing it between my fingers and sniffing my hand for the next hour or two. People kind of avoid me on the street, but it’s worth it.)
So, if you don’t have fresh bay don’t even bother making this recipe. I don’t know what will happen if you try to use dried bay leaves, but I can guarantee you that it won’t be good.
- 96 bay leaves (This is why you had children. Go send them out to pick the bay right now.)
- Zest of two lemons, cut into strips
- 1 kg plus 300 g sugar (the evil processed granulated white kind)
- 1.5 lt water (tap is fine)
- 1 lt alcohol (You can get 95% alcohol at the grocery store in Italy—You can’t get ibuprofen, but you can get 95% alcohol. Go figure.—but I know that isn’t true everywhere. I have friends in the States who use vodka.)
Put 66 bay leaves, the lemon zest, and the alcohol in a glass bottle, close tightly, and let it sit for 24 hours.
The next day dissolve the sugar in the water, add the remaining 30 bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes over a low flame until the syrup takes on the bay flavour. I usually simmer for about 15 minutes.
Let the syrup cool, add the alcohol mixture, and strain it through a coffee filter into glass bottles.Cork or close tightly to store. When ready to serve, filter once more into decorative bottles (if the bottles sit for more than a few weeks there will be a bit of cloudy sediment at the bottom, which is not that pretty but does nothing to the taste.).
Curious to hear what Alexandra, Gloria, and Jessica had to say about this month’s topic? Check out their blog posts, and leave your comments.