14 July 2014
Nocino: Italian black walnut liqueur
Green black walnuts are clustering in the trees and staining the sidewalks in our neighborhood, so I foraged a few nice specimens and brought them home to make a batch of nocino.
What is nocino, you ask? Well. Nocino is an Italian black walnut liqueur flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon. It's traditionally made at the very end of June, since that's when the walnuts are fully formed but still green enough that you can easily chop them up. But for those of you who live in a climate a little less balmy than that of Italy, I'm guessing now is the perfect time to go find some green walnuts and start your own batch.
I still have a huge selection of homemade schnappses and liqueurs hanging around our kitchen cupboards, but I couldn't resist adding at least a tiny batch of authentic nocino. So here's what I'm doing to make one pint jar's worth of nocino this year. The results are going to be small, but so worth it.
Caution: walnuts stain! Be sure to wash your cutting board and knife immediately after chopping your walnuts, or you will have some serious fluorescent green to deal with in the future.
Small batch homemade nocino
5-6 unripe black walnuts, quartered (to fill ~2/3 pint jar)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
about half a 750 ml bottle of vodka
mason jar with lid
simple syrup to taste
Put your walnuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick into your jar. Cover with vodka up to the rim of the jar. Lid the jar, label it, and put it into a dark cupboard to steep.
Agitate the jar every few days for the first week or so of steeping, and once every week or two after that. The walnuts will oxidize and the vodka will turn disturbingly dark within a few days. Don't be alarmed! This is normal! You'll want to take off the lid every once in a while to introduce fresh oxygen and promote the oxidation process. As you continue steeping, the color will mellow to a rich dark walnut brown. So pretty.
Steeping time varies from recipe to recipe. I'd recommend you steep your nocino for at least a month, and up to three months if you can stand the wait. Then, when you're ready to bottle, strain out all the solids through a fine sieve or coffee filter. You may need a second or third straining to remove all the organic material.
Flavor your nocino with a simple syrup made from 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. I'd suggest starting with about a tablespoon of simple syrup per cup of liqueur. Then taste and consider whether you want to add more syrup. Pour your final concoction into the jar or bottle of your choice.
Put your finished nocino in the liquor cupboard to age for at least a few weeks before you drink it. The last time I made black walnut schnapps (a very similar liqueur, just omitting the lemon zest and cinnamon), I aged it for a full year before drinking. That produced an excellent liqueur! But if you are impatient, you are definitely free to taste your nocino and drink it when you think it's sufficiently delicious.
How should you drink nocino? Well, you can certainly have it plain as a totally different and delightful aperitif, but I suggest you experiment with some cocktail recipes, such as Savvy Housekeeping's black walnut manhattan. SO good.
Are you making any interesting infusions this summer?