Saturday, June 27, 2009

Floating On Limoncello Memories

It has been raining intermittently all week here in New York, but I am ready for some consistent sunshine. Even though this has been the coolest June in recent memory, I am ready to delve into my treasure trove of fun summer recipes and share them with you. Certain days conjure up specific culinary memories for me, especially those of the revelatory sort, and today happens to be such a day for it was on June 27th three years ago in which I was introduced to one of my all-time favorite summer desserts. And it would be my great pleasure to introduce you in turn to the Limoncello Float.

I was doing a recording session with Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick Jr. on this very day in 2006. I’d always thought Kelli had such a magical quality each time I’d seen her on the Broadway stage, and I was thrilled that she was recording her debut album, “Wonder In The World”. I was excited to work with Harry Connick for the first time, and my enjoyment on the gig was definitely enhanced by the presence of Cenovia and Lorra who were also in the violin section. As they have been two of my major partners in culinary capers over the years, it is no surprise that our conversations frequently turn to new restaurant discoveries or recipes we’re longing to try. This particular morning was no exception, for before the recording session even began, Lorra was waxing eloquently about a marvelous meal she’d enjoyed at a new restaurant in Chelsea called Cookshop. Her enthusiasm ratcheted up yet another notch as she described the limoncello float that was the exquisite clincher of the meal. It sounded like the perfect treat on a blisteringly hot summer day, and I spent the morning daydreaming about how that would taste. When the producers called an unexpectedly long lunch break in between our recording sessions, the three of us immediately hopped in a cab and made our way downtown for those limoncello floats.

I felt very happy and calm the moment I walked into Cookshop, appreciating the minimalist space that was filled with lots of light and countless glass vases of joyful sunflowers. Lunch was delicious, but the limoncello float was out of this world! Served in an elegantly tall glass, the alternating scoops of lemon and strawberry sorbet bobbed up and down in soda water, creating a kind of liquid sunset. And when I stuck my straw into the bottom of this frothy lemony loveliness, the first thing that hit my taste buds was the limoncello liqueur that had settled in the bottom of the glass. It was unexpected and totally beguiling.

As we returned back to the recording studio for the rest of the afternoon, it seemed highly appropriate that one of the tunes we recorded was “Make Someone Happy”. I’ve always associated this song with Jimmy Durante’s classic version, but I was utterly taken with Kelli’s achingly lovely rendition of it. As we accompanied her with a luscious string arrangement by Harry, I know I was definitely floating on happiness as well as the memory of that perfumed lemon loveliness at lunch.

I immediately got my hands on a bottle of limoncello, the popular Italian digestiv made from fragrant lemon rinds macerated in alcohol and sugar and served as an after-dinner drink. With two pints of contrasting sorbet and a bottle of seltzer water also at the ready, how hard could it be to make my own limoncello float? Unlike some restaurant desserts that would take a considerable effort to recreate in your own kitchen, my version of this summer treat is a snap to prepare, something I've done numerous times since that fateful day three years ago. Whether you’re making it for yourself or sharing it with guests, this grown-up dessert also has a high WOW factor, which in my book is always a great thing.

I suppose I have a long history of making ice cream sodas of a wide variety. I guffawed out loud when I found this photo of my 6-year-old self when I was at my parents’ house this spring, and I knew I had to copy it and incorporate it into this blog in some way. (Yes, I was a natural blonde as a child!) This is a significant photo in that it was taken the first time I ever cooked for my family, if preparing “Rubber Ducky Floats” from the Sesame Street Cookbook can be considered actual cooking! I can’t write that with a straight face now, but I remember how incredibly serious I was as I followed this recipe to the letter for the first time. Mom set out all the ingredients and the festive tall glasses for me, but I was absolutely determined to put the recipe together on my own without any help.

I remember carefully maneuvering those scoops of lemon sherbet through the narrow mouth of each glass, not wanting any of it to slide down the outside of the glass. I was gaining confidence by the second as I topped the sherbet with some pink lemonade, thinking that I was so unbearably grown up to be making this dessert all by myself. I hadn’t even spilled a drop yet, and I could not wait to serve these Rubber Ducky Floats to my parents. In a surge of enthusiasm, I poured ginger ale into the first glass with a bit too much speed, not taking the high carbonation into account, for it bubbled up and overflowed onto the counter making a spectacular mess! The hilarious pineapple ring garnish on the side of each Rubber Ducky Float was just the right crowning touch, and I was so very proud to pose with my creations before serving them to my family.

A lot has happened since my first small triumph in the kitchen nearly thirty years ago. My blonde curls have turned very dark over time, and I’ve traded that loud yellow spacious kitchen in sunny California for a small-but-well-equipped kitchen high in the Manhattan sky. And in terms of soda fountain treats, the lemon sherbet and ginger ale of my Rubber Ducky Floats have been replaced by slightly more sophisticated fruit sorbets and seltzer, with a very adult glug of limoncello liqueur for good measure. But my enjoyment of dipping a straw into a tall glass filled with icy bubbly delight is not too different from how it was thirty years ago! Back then I had no idea how many thousands of hours I would spend in the kitchen, nor could I have anticipated how much enjoyment and true pleasure I would derive from sharing my culinary creations with others.

Inspired by a dessert at Cookshop in NYC. This is a fabulous way to get in touch with your inner child-on-summer-vacation, and I love serving this limoncello float to finish a summer supper. It’s surprising and refreshing, sophisticated with a dash of playfulness. If limoncello is not readily available, I have also made satisfying versions of this by substituting crème de cassis or Grand Marnier for the lemon liqueur.

8 tablespoons limoncello liqueur
1 pint lemon sorbet
1 pint raspberry or strawberry sorbet
lemon-lime seltzer water

Place a tablespoon of limoncello in the bottoms of four tall glasses. Add alternating small scoops of the lemon and berry sorbet, depending on the size of your glass and how thirsty you and your guests are! Top the sorbet with one more tablespoon of limoncello and carefully fill up the glass with seltzer water, gently stirring to combine. Serve with a straw and a long-handled spoon. Makes 4 servings.

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