• Yield: Makes 1 cup (you can scale the recipe up indefinitely, removing the lemon zest when the oil reaches the intensity you like)

  • Time: 5 minutes prep, 1-6 hours (unattended) cooking, 1-6 hours total

At olive oil making time in the Abruzzo and Molise regions of Italy, lemons are often added to the last pressing to clean and freshen the press for the next season. The resulting oil, called limonato, is an intense olive oil redolent with lemon. Since the real thing is so expensive, I make my own version by pounding lemon zest in a mortar with gutsy olive oil.


This oil marries the perfume of olive and lemons without acidity from lemon juice. It is splendid on many foods – practically anything you would dress with olive oil – especially vegetables like roasted peppers, fennel and eggplant, and seafood. It is great for improvising quick pasta dishes … think fresh fettucine, arugula, Parmesan and pepper drizzled with Lemon Olive Oil. It makes a superb salad dressing when mixed with a dry fragrant vinegar such as Sherry or Banyuls. (Balsamic overly accentuates the sweetness of the lemon.)


You can make other citrus olive oils by replacing the lemon with orange, Meyer Lemon and tangelo. A blend of lemon and tangelo or tangerine gives a flavor similar to Japanese Yuzu.


This oil makes a much-appreciated gift packed into clean bottles. (You can recycle pretty oil or vinegar bottles, soaking off the labels…or buy bottles.)


  • 2 lemons

  • Pinch of salt

  • About 1cup decent vin-ordinaire extra-virgin olive oil, such as Monini


1. With a vegetable peeler or a citrus zester, remove the zest from the lemons in thin strips. (Take care to avoid the bitter white pith). In a mortar or medium stainless steel or wooden bowl, combine the lemon peel and the salt. Pound and crush the peel with a pestle for several minutes to extract the oils. Use a circular motion to crush the peel against the bottom of the bowl as you dribble in the olive oil a little at a time and continue working the peel this way for about a minute.

2. Set the oil aside to infuse at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours, tasting it occasionally to gauge its strength, until it is pleasantly fragrant with lemon, but not cloying (If you let it steep too long, it will begin to taste like candy). Add additional olive oil if necessary to balance the flavor. Strain into clean, dry bottles and stopper.

Storage: This oil will keep several months refrigerated.

Sally Schneider
A former chef, Sally Schneider has won numerous awards—including four James Beard awards—for her books and magazine writing. She is creator of the lifestyle blog Improvised Life, a featured blogger on The Atlantic Monthly's Food Blog, and author of The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook. She has served as a contributing editor to both Saveur and Food & Wine, and her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Saveur, Food & Wine, SELF and Connoisseur.