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Summertime sips and nibbles with limoncello and marinated olives

"Home with the Lost Italian" food columnist Sarah Nasello revisits two past recipes that are perfect for the warmer weather.

Limoncello is a refreshing cordial made from the zest of lemons. Start making yours now to have it ready for the Fourth of July.
Forum file photo
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FARGO — This week I am taking a trip down Memory Lane with two recipes from the vault that are among my favorite summertime staples — Homemade Limoncello and Tony’s Marinated Olives. These are recipes from the early days of this column and these Italian specialties are the perfect sips and nibbles for easy and delicious summer entertaining.

“Sweet, bright and bracing, limoncello is traditionally served chilled after a meal, as a 'digestivo' to aid in digestion.” That is how I described this lemony nectar when I first introduced the recipe, but limoncello is excellent anytime it is served, especially on sizzling summer days. We store our limoncello in the freezer to ensure that it is as cool and refreshing as possible, and I use 100-proof vodka to keep it from freezing.

This citrus cordial is surprisingly simple to make and requires just five ingredients : lemons, sugar, vodka, water… and time. Patience is a must, as the liqueur needs time to steep and absorb all the essence from the zest of 15 lemons. This can take anywhere from 10 to 40 days, depending on how long you can wait, and now is exactly the right time to make a batch so that it is ready when summer weather finally arrives. Once the limoncello is ready, you can enjoy it as a cordial or in a cocktail, and it is also great drizzled over ice cream and cake.

Tony’s Marinated Olives are the perfect nibble to enjoy as you sit outdoors and sip your limoncello, and even better with a loaf of good, crusty bread to dip into the oil. These are my go-to dish whenever I am asked to bring an appetizer to an event, and I am always — always — asked to share the recipe.

This olive mix is quick and simple to make and can be made up to a week in advance of serving. Tony’s recipe calls for a mix of green and black olives, and if you can find a good variety, go for it, but we often use just what is available in our local markets, like green Spanish Manzanillo and black Kalamata olives.


The marinade is a blend of good extra-virgin olive oil combined with a wine-based vinegar (red, white or Champagne), garlic, crushed red peppers and a generous amount of fresh parsley, mint and basil. This no-cook appetizer can be prepared in just minutes and is best enjoyed at room temperature as the warmth will enhance the flavor of the olives.

After the brutal winter we just had, I pray that warmer weather is, indeed, on its way. I hope we all have a good supply of homemade limoncello and marinated olives on hand when it arrives, because we have earned it. Until then, have a happy, safe and delicious Memorial Day weekend!

Sarah’s Homemade Limoncello

15 medium to large lemons
2 750-milliliter bottles of 100-proof vodka (the higher proof will keep the alcohol from freezing)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

Microplane grater or vegetable peeler
1-gallon glass (Mason) jar
Bottles for storing finished liqueur

Soak the lemons in warm water for 10 minutes to clean, then wipe dry with a towel. Use the grater or vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemons, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith. Set the zested lemons aside for use in another recipe.

Place the zest in the Mason jar and add 1 bottle of vodka. Seal tightly, label with today’s date and the words “First Stage.” Store in a cupboard and allow the mixture to steep for 10 to 40 days. The longer it steeps, the better it will taste.

After 10 to 40 days, strain the mixture through a double layer of cheesecloth into a large bowl, gently pressing the zest to extract all the flavored liquid. (You may need to strain more than once to remove all the zest.) Add the second bottle of vodka.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Remove from heat.


Once cooled, add the syrup to the vodka mixture. Use a funnel to pour the liqueur back into the Mason jar. Have another, smaller jar on hand in case of overflow. Label the jar with today’s date or the date it will be ready to serve, and the words “Second Stage.” Return to the cupboard for 10 to 40 days.

When the limoncello is ready, store it in the freezer so it is always chilled before serving.

Sarah's tips:

  • Limoncello makes a terrific hostess gift. Save attractive empty liquor, olive oil, vanilla, or vinegar bottles for storing limoncello. Sterilize before use and keep in the freezer. Use ribbons and labels to personalize.
  • Save the juice from the zested lemons for use in another recipe, like my Luscious Lemon Bars . Freeze in small quantities or use ice cube trays for small portions. Transfer to a plastic zip bag and freeze for up to 4 months.
  • Use limoncello to enhance other beverages, like lemonade and lemon-drop martinis.
  • For a treat, drizzle limoncello over cake or ice cream.
Tony's Marinated Olives are great to nibble.
Forum file photo

Tony’s Marinated Olives

2 to 2 ½ cups mixed green and black olives, pitted (like Spanish Manzanillo and Kalamata)
Pinch to a ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (¼ teaspoon will be spicy)
2 large garlic cloves, chopped in 3 or 4 pieces each
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Champagne vinegar, white or red wine vinegar also work
1 heaping teaspoon each of the following fresh herbs: Parsley, mint and basil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pour the olives into a medium-sized bowl. Put the remaining ingredients together in a glass measuring cup or small bowl and mix vigorously with a small whisk until the oil and vinegar have emulsified.

Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings as desired, keeping in mind that the olives will provide a good deal of salt to the mix. Pour the mixture over the olives and toss until they are evenly coated. Serve at room temperature.

To store, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week (if they last that long).


Sarah's tips:

  • While the olives can be enjoyed immediately, they will become even better if allowed to marinate for a couple of hours before serving.
  • For a quick and easy salad, add some extra-virgin olive oil to the leftover marinade and toss with fresh lettuce greens.

Recipe Time Capsule:This week in...

Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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