Nocino is an Italian liqueur made from fresh green walnuts that are cured in a sugar and alcohol solution. I first discovered this "black gold" while dining at Flour + Water in San Francisco and have been making it each season for the past three years since. The amazing think about nocino is by adding incredibly tannic walnuts, clear sugary alcohol is magically transformed into a thick, luscious, nearly black liqueur.
Making nocino requires a few steps and a lot of patience, but the results are worth it! I love it on it's own after dinner, but have also used it in in cocktails and to top ice cream (with crushed toasted walnuts as well, of course).
The green walnuts you're looking for are only available in May/June (traditionally harvested on June 24th, the day of St.John the Baptist, by virgins) and quite hard to come by. The first time that I made nocino I was able to find some through the Capay Valley Farms CSA I started up at work, but the last two years I went ahead and foraged them.
The most recent batch that we made was using walnuts picked in September, which is much later than desired (oops - too many food projects!) The walnuts were very hard to cut through because the shell had begun to harden and we're not sure how this is going to affect the flavor of the nocino, but we went ahead and made it anyway. We'll see in 6 months - if it's anything like the last couple of batches, it will be more than drinkable! As the recipe is written it makes about 2 liters of nocino, but the recipe can be multiplied as necessary for the amount of walnuts that you have on hand. Remember that green walnuts stain - if you're concerned with having inky looking fingers for a week, be sure to wear gloves.
- 4-1/4 cups granulate sugar
- 1.75 liters of Everclear (Vodka also works, but not as well)
- 50 green walnuts
- Other ingredients- citrus peel, cinnamon sticks, pepper, vanilla bean, etc.
Wash 4 half-gallon mason jars well with hot soapy water, rinse, and air dry.
While jars are drying, quarter walnuts then divide into jars with 1/4 each of the Everclear and sugar. Screw the lids tightly onto jars and shake vigorously. Over time the nocino liquid will darken. It happens quite fast and it's pretty impressive! Allow jars to sit for 6 weeks in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally to dissolve sugar.
Using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer, strain the liquid and discard the walnuts. Add any other ingredients of your choosing (vanilla bean, orange peel, etc.) and pour nocino from the jars into smaller bottles. Close bottles and let the liqueur marinate for another 6 months to 1 year. You can taste the nocino as it rests to learn about the flavor changes and begin drinking once it's to your liking.