Limoncello & Finocchietto From Italy

Finocchietto and Limoncello from Sorrento, Italy

Finocchietto and Limoncello from Sorrento, Italy

In Sorrento and along the Amalfi Coast of Italy, there are two delicious liqueurs made with local lemons and fennel: Limoncello and Finocchietto. These potent liqueurs are typically served in small amounts after a meal, but they can also be added to Spumante or Prosecco — or even mixed with other liquors to make cocktails. I have even seen a variation of babà al rum where little yeasted sweet cakes are soaked in limoncello instead of rum.

The best Limoncello is made with Ovale lemons from Sorrento. The liqueur is made by soaking only the lemon peel in a flavorless alcohol (such as vodka or grain alcohol) for 40 days, then a sugar syrup is added along with more alcohol, and the mixture sits for another 40 days. After 80 days total, the resulting liqueur is strained and bottled. Limoncello is always served very cold and is normally kept in the freezer.

Finocchietto is similar to Limoncello, except it is flavored with fennel seeds and other parts of the fennel plant instead of lemon. Some versions also incorporate anise seed and dill. Finocchietto is also served ice cold after lunch or dinner.

The very best Limoncello I have tasted comes from lemons grown in the community garden of Sorrento. The garden, and production of the limoncello, is managed by I Giardini di Cataldo. Limoncello and Finocchietto can be ordered online directly from I Giardini di Cataldo, but be aware the shipper (UPS/Fed Ex) will forward a customs tax bill to U. S. recipients based on the declared value of the shipment. In my case, the bill was around $10 and it arrived a week or more after the shipment of liqueur.

I Giardini di Cataldo also sells Finocchietto, which is made from fennel grown on a private estate on the Amalfi Coast just south of Sorrento. It is delicious.

For more information on the lemons of Sorrento, visit

The Martini Cocktail In The Year 2016

Romantic Martini Cocktail

Romantic Martini Cocktail

With two thousand twenty sixteen being an incredibly unusual presidential election year, it seems the martini should probably the potent drink of choice to calm rattled nerves. It’s classic, elegant, and dependable and that’s exactly what’s needed during times of instability. Let’s take a quick look at the history of the Martini cocktail.

Martinez, California was the birthplace of the Martini in 1874, according to a plaque in the city which was dedicated by the Joaquin Murrieta Historical Society (Chapter 13). The plaque states “The drink consisted of ⅔ gin, ⅓ vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, poured over crushed ice and served with an olive.” It is unclear whether the vermouth was dry or sweet.

During the prohibition years (1920 – 1934), the lower quality “bathtub gin” required some masking of the flavor so a ratio of one-to-two was used along with a twist of lemon.

“The three martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?” — Gerald Ford

In the 1940’s, after the repeal of prohibition, availability of better tasting gin caused the Martini recipe to become three or four parts gin to one part vermouth. In many cases, much less vermouth was used and often it was omitted altogether. The size of the Martini cocktail during this time (and well into the mid-century) was only about a two ounce pour. That’s why they could have a two-Martini lunch and get away with it!

In the 1950’s, Auntie Mame had little nephew Patrick Dennis stirring up Martinis for the cranky banker Mr. Babcock.

early evening martini

Early Evening Martini

In the 1960’s, there was James Bond in Ian Fleming’s novel “Casino Royale” and his famous drink order of “ … three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold and add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.” Mr. Bond also asked for the drink to be served in a “deep champagne goblet.”

“Whosoever shall believe in the Martini shall have salvation at cocktail hour.” — Barnaby Conrad III, Author of “The Martini”

The Martini fell out of favor in the 1970’s but returned in new forms in the late 1980’s. The new Martini usually consisted of vodka instead of gin and vermouth was verboten. The drink also became super-sized with some pours reaching up to seven or eight room-spinning ounces!

In 2016, there’s been some downsizing of the Martini. Some establishments have pulled the pour back to as little as three ounces, but the price of the cocktail has not reduced at all. It’s most likely the smaller drink sizes have nothing to do with returning to the drink’s origins, but rather, are a cost-cutting, profit-enhancing measure. In hotels and resort areas, it’s common to pay $18 to $20 or more for a Martini. Las Vegas strip hotels now add on a $4 to $6 up-charge per drink on top of the already high drink price.

“More people get their glasses broken and arrested and divorced on account of Martinis than for any other reason.” — Westbrook Pegler

For history, beautiful photography, artwork and more information about the Martini cocktail, get a copy of the book Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic by Barnaby Conrad III.

Here are my favorite methods for preparing the Martini. Enjoy!

Vodka Martini

  • 6 ounces of vodka
  • 1 large pimiento- or garlic-stuffed olive or twist of lemon peel
  • Ice (must be odor-free and fresh)
  1. Place the olive or twist of lemon peel into a chilled 6 oz. capacity Martini glass.
  2. Add plenty of ice along with the vodka to a stainless steel cocktail shaker or Boston shaker.
  3. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
  4. Strain into the chilled glass.

Martini at The Chandelier Bar Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

Martini at The Chandelier Bar, Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas

Gin Martini

  • A few drops of dry vermouth
  • 6 ounces of gin
  • 1 large pimiento- or garlic-stuffed olive
  • Ice (must be odor-free and fresh)
  1. Add the vermouth to a chilled 6 ounce capacity martini glass. Swirl the vermouth around the glass to coat it and discard the remaining excess liquid.
  2. Place the olive in the glass.
  3. Add plenty of ice along with the gin to a stainless steel cocktail shaker or Boston shaker.
  4. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
  5. Strain into the chilled glass.

The Vesper

There’s one more version of the Martini to suggest and it is James Bond’s Vesper, which uses both vodka and gin. An excellent adaptation has been created by my friend, author and photographer O. Henry Mace. Visit his website to learn more about the Vesper and to view the updated recipe.


Things To Do In Sorrento, Italy

Things to do in Sorrento Italy

There’s No Shortage of Things to do in Sorrento, Italy

If you’re looking for things to do in Sorrento, Italy, then here’s a partial list of activities. When you’re done exploring the Amalfi coast line and boating off to Capri, settle down in serene Sorrento for some relaxation, people watching and shopping.

IMG_4783 mount vesuvius bay of naples sorrento italyGaze at Mount Vesuvius Across The Bay of Naples

The natives seem to keep a watchful eye on Vesuvio (the Italian name) and there’s no wonder. It’s considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the world since the next big eruption could potentially wipe out about 3 million people living nearby.

Marvel at the Tile Artwork

The Italians produce some of the most beautiful tiles in the world and they can be found most everywhere in Sorrento.

Look for Shrines to Mary

Shrines to Mary are scattered throughout Sorrento and you’ll stumble upon them unexpectedly. They’re all unique, special and charming.

Avoid Traffic Jams on the Amalfi Coast Highway

IMG_5055 traffic jam almalfi coast highway sorrento italyWhile walking on the sidewalk I witnessed a tour bus challenging a mobile home for passing room on the narrow cliffside highway. As the drivers attempted to negotiate how to get past each other, impatient cyclists (both motorized and non-motorized) were zooming through the gap between the vehicles at a high rate of speed. Apparently these jam-ups are commonplace.  Continue reading