June 24 is the Feast Day of San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist), the patron saint of Florence, and traditionally it’s also the day when unripe green walnuts (noci) are gathered for making nocino, a complex, nutty, and slightly bitter dark-brown liqueur.
Nocino usually served as an after-dinner digestivo, but it can also be used to “correct” a shot of espresso (espresso with a shot of liquor is called a "caffè corretto," or "corrected coffee"), poured over gelato, mixed into cocktails, or used in place of vanilla extract in baking, especially when making biscotti.
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Gather Your Ingredients
You will need:
- 1 gallon-sized glass jar with a lid
- 25 green walnuts
- 1 quart (4 cups) 190-proof Everclear or substitute
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Zest of 1 lemon (You can use a vegetable peeler and make wide swaths of zest, to make it easier to strain the pieces out later. Try to avoid including the bitter white pith.)
- 1/2 whole nutmeg (grated on all sides)
- 10 coffee beans
- Simple syrup: 3 cups sugar dissolved in 4 cups water (added after the first 30-day infusion period)
- Rubber gloves to wear when slicing the green walnuts
02 of 04
Wash and Quarter the Walnuts
After rinsing and drying the walnuts thoroughly, use a sharp chef's knife to halve the walnuts lengthwise, then halve each half again to form quarters.
Note that they might be a bit difficult to cut, even though the immature shells lining the inside of the green husks should still be quite thin.
It's a good idea to wear disposable rubber gloves for this part, or the walnut juice will stain your fingers and nails yellow. If you don't clean your nails, the stain later turns dark brown.
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Place All Ingredients In the Jar, Shake, Then Set It and Forget It.
- Place all of your ingredients (except for the simple syrup) in the glass jar and then pour in the Everclear.
- Close the lid tightly and give the jar a good shake to distribute the ingredients.
- Then let it sit in a cool, dark place for 30 to 40 days.
- You can give it a little shake every now and then to redistribute the ingredients.
Most recipes for nocino instruct you to leave it in a bright, sunny spot to macerate, but that seems counter to all logic about infusing liquor. Light can degrade and destroy flavor and aroma compounds, It is better to store the jar in a cool, dark cupboard. Just a few hours later, a peek into the jar revealed that the walnuts had already begun to oxidize and turn black (particularly any that were above the water line).
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Add the Simple Syrup, Then Hurry Up and Wait
- Add simple syrup and shake well.
- Return jar to a cool, dark place and let sit for another 30 to 60 days.
- Finally, strain out the solids and your nocino is done.
Most people advise letting it sit for about 40 days before adding simple syrup, then letting it sit for at least another 30 days before straining out the solids. At that point it is, in theory, ready to drink, but common wisdom (and the Order of Nocino Modenese) dictate that to really get something special, you need to let it age and mellow for at least a year, or better yet, two.