If you enjoy a cold Limoncello during the summer, you will love this homemade Italian liquor for the winter, made with green walnuts.
Nocino is less well known than Limoncello.
While Limoncello is perfect as a summer after dinner digestive, Nocino is its winter equivalent.
It has a nutty creamy taste and is the perfect digestive after a winter stew or roast.
It is not easy to find in the store, so the best option is to make it at home......
and NOW is the time!
The challenge is to find the ingredients......
1. First challenge: Find a walnut tree.
Nocino is made with green walnuts and they have to be picked before they mature on the tree, around mid June.
They do not sell them at the Supermarkets, so you will need to find a tree.
The Italian tradition recommends to pick the walnuts on Saint John’s day, the 24th of June, but clearly it depends on your location.
I picked them last week and they were at the perfect stage of maturity, green outside and white inside.
2. Walnut hull benefits
The walnut hull contains a certain percentage of hydrojuglone.
When you cut the walnut the hydrojuglone reacts with the Oxygen and forms the juglone which has a reddish colour.
The juglone has antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic effects.
It is used as fungicide for skin and for natural hair colouring.
3. Where I found the walnuts
In a magical garden with a 360 degree panoramic view over Saint Paul de Vence, the sea and the Alps.
It is the garden of Elisabeth Soulaine.
Elisabeth is my son Francesco’s art teacher; she runs Art Atelier classes for children at her villa in Saint Paul de Vence.
Every year at the end of June, Elisabeth organises an Art Exposition of all the children’s art work in her garden.
The garden around the walnut trees was always full of perished walnuts, not even the squirrels could finish them all.
So this year I couldn’t resist and asked Elisabeth if I can pick some for a recipe.
The supply was more than enough, so I had to find the second rare ingredient.
4. The second rare ingredient
95% pure alcohol, which you can only find in Italy!
Here on the Cote d’Azur, it is easy to drive to the Italian frontier and buy it in Ventimiglia.
Though, my luck was just around the corner as our friends Pierre and Anna had some extra, and proposed an exchange: 1 liter of alcohol in exchange of 1/3 of the Nocino.
If you cannot buy the 95% pure Alcohol, use Vodka but do not add the syrup.
5. The Nocino recipe
The recipe is a family treasure, it was given to me from my Aunt Anna (second from the left), my father’s sister.
Every time we would go to visit her she would have a cupboard full of homemade liquors, some from the family and others from my cousin’s friends from Tuscany.
Also my Aunt Lalla (third from the left, and yes, Laura like me), their younger sister, she is famous for her Limoncello, and we had a delicious one last summer in Lipari.
The lemons from the Eolie Islands in Sicily are unbeatable, and her recipe is outstanding. Unfortunately our lemon tree died, but when we replant a lemon tree I will share the recipe with you.
My father, Francesco (here with my Aunt Lalla at her first communion), used to make Citronella, which we grew in our terrace. Even if he never drank it, we always had some to offer when friends came for dinner.
For Italians, homemade liquors are like special family treats, and like memories and old pictures, we like to share them with our friends.
6. Now let’s make this Italian liquor
I obtained the remaining ingredients and am ready to start.
For 1 liter of 95% pure alcohol the ingredients are as follows:
- 16 green walnuts
- 16 cloves
- 16 coffee beans
- 1 pinch of cinnamon
- the zest of 1 lemon
- ½ kilo of sugar
- ½ litre of water
I use a large glass container holding at least 3 litres, which I bought exclusively to make these liquors.
In this container I mix all the ingredients and let them marinate.
Make sure the neck of the container is wide enough otherwise the smaller ingredients may not come out of the container once the liquor has marinated.
Don’t let the neck of the container become a bottleneck!
Cut the walnuts into quarters, using rubber gloves as the walnut stains very badly.
Peel the lemon with a potato peeler trying to avoid having too much of the white.
Cut the lemon zest into small slices so they can easily be removed from the bottle
Mix everything in the bottle and keep in a dark place for 40 days.
Just remember to give the bottle a shake every day.
After 40 days, filter the alcohol but do not throw away the walnuts.
Make the syrup by warming up the water and sugar mix until the sugar has dissolved.
Wait until the syrup is cold before mixing it with the Nocino.
Once you have mixed everything together you can pour it into small bottles and store them in your liquor cupboard.
It is best to wait until Christmas to drink it!
Remember, if you still have some left over, it is a special treat to give friends at Christmas.
One of mine is for Elisabeth!
7. Why you shouldn’t throw away the walnuts?
The deal with Pierre was: 1 litre of 95% alcohol in exchange of 1/3 Nocino and 1/3 Nocino wine.
- 1 litre 95% pure alcohol if you cannot buy it replace with Vodka and don't add sugar and water
- 16 green walnuts
- 16 cloves
- 16 coffee beans
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 lemon zest
- 1/2 kilo sugar
- 1/2 litre water
- Cut the walnuts into quarters, using rubber gloves as the walnut stains very badly.
- Peel the lemon with a potato peeler trying to avoid having too much of the white. Cut the lemon zest into small slices
- Use a large glass container holding at least 3 litres with a wide bottleneck
- Mix everything in the bottle and keep in a dark place for 40 days.
- Give the bottle a shake every day.
- After 40 days, filter the alcohol but do not throw away the walnuts.
- Make the syrup by warming up the water and sugar mix until the sugar has dissolved.
- Wait until the syrup is cold before mixing it with the Nocino.
- Once you have mixed everything together you can pour it into small bottles and store them in your liquor cupboard.
- It is best to wait until Christmas to drink it!
- Remember, if you still have some left over, it is a special treat to give friends at Christmas.
- You can make Nocino Wine by putting the alcohol soaked walnuts into 3 bottles of wine (red, rose or white). Enjoy !