Homemade liqueurs and wines seem to be back in style once again. Many restaurants and bars in New York City feature menus of their house-made drinks. I enjoyed many at my recent trip to Aquavit. It seems like a new trend in these elite establishments, but making your own liquor is not a new invention. In the United States, many people made their own libations before—and oftentimes during—prohibition. Almost all the countries of Europe have their special known drinks. Generations there have made their national drink at home. My grandfather distilled his own Pálinka at home in Hungary as well as his adopted home in New Jersey and my father made wine from the vines in our backyard in Connecticut.
Much like homemade Schnapps is to Germany or Akvavit is to Scandinavia, Limoncello or Arancello equals Southern Italy. There, probably because of an abundance in citrus fruit, this sweet liqueur is made from alcohol infused with citrus rind—the kind made of lemons is called limoncello and the one of oranges, arancello. It is typically enjoyed as an after-dinner digestivo. Sicily is especially known for its moro or blood oranges. These beautiful ruby-skinned oranges were first discovered in Southern Italy, born as a result of mutation. Now they account for 60 percent of Italy's citrus production. Made into an arancello, they create a salmon pink liquid that captures the unique bitter-sweet citrus flavor.
I'm so glad to finally be experimenting with my own infusions at home. I was particularly inspired by Dave Arnold, whose homemade drinks I was able to sample last January at a visit to the French Culinary Institute. He both infuses and distills his own beverages in varying strengths, creating unique flavors such as horseradish, habanero, and pine. I don't think I'll distill my own alcohol any time soon at home—is it even legal? But I sure will be infusing drinks to enjoy during the summer. There's nothing better than an ice-cold, sweet arancello on a hot summer day. This arancello is one of the easiest drinks to make right now. And even though citrus season has wound down, fruits are still widely available.
15 blood oranges, washed and scrubbed
1 1.75-liter bottle vodka
4 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, remove skins from oranges being careful not to include the white pith. Add the peels to a 3-liter canning jar. Pour over with vodka. Seal and let steep in a cool, dry place for 1 to 2 weeks.
Make a simple syrup by combining sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until syrup is clear. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
Strain orange peel and vodka mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter into a pitcher or second canning jar. Pour in simple syrup. Divide into 3 1-liter bottles and refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: 3 liters.