There’s a large old walnut tree in the work car park and every year yellow-tailed black cockatoo’s get to the walnuts before they have a chance to fully ripen. The cockatoo’s are pretty clever as they carry the unripe walnuts and drop them from a height onto the nearby concrete footpath to crack the walnut shells open. As a result, each year I miss out on the massive bounty of walnuts. So almost 3 years ago, (the reason why I say almost 3 years ago is because I made it back then placed it in a dark cool place and forgot about it. I was moving house recently and came across it while packing). I decided to do something different and picked the unripe green walnuts to try my hand at making nocino. Nocino (pronounced no-CHEE-no) is a dark liqueur made from unripe walnuts, that is delicately nutty and has subtly spiced flavour. Nocino is a traditional Italian liqueur that is perfectly paired after a rich meal. Most of the recipes that I have come across are very similar; some use more and some or less sugar, add or omit certain spices, vary the length of time. The liqueur should sit and mellow for the flavours to develop. It turns out it is also very easy to make, here’s how.
1 kg green unripe walnuts (approx 33-35, traditionally odd numbers used)
1 lemon zest
1 orange zest
4-6 whole cloves
1 litre vodka
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ stick of cinnamon (optional)
1 stick of vanilla bean (optional)
½ whole nutmeg (optional)
Note – The walnuts should be young and green and small in size. If foraging for green walnuts, make sure they haven’t been sprayed with anything you wouldn’t drink. They should have a soft inside before the wooden case has hardened. If you encounter a hard shell forming inside the nut, then unfortunately its to old to use for nocino.
Using a vegetable peeler, zest the lemon and orange into strips without the pith.
Clean the walnuts with a damp cloth and pat dry with paper towel.
Wearing disposable rubber gloves (otherwise the clear colourless juice from the green walnuts will stain your hands, and anything else it touches) use a sharp knife to carefully cut the walnuts into quarters. Wash your chopping board straight away to avoid staining it.
Place the quartered walnuts into a large, sterilised, glass jar that has a good seal.
A close up of the quartered green walnuts – you can see the insides starting to resemble a walnut, but it is still soft at this stage.
Pour the vodka in to the jar to completely cover the surface of the walnuts. When making a liqueur, the higher the alcohol content of your solvent, the better the extraction of essential oils.
A close up of the steeped walnuts.
Make sure you close the jar tightly as you want to prevent the alcohol from evaporating. Place the jar in direct sunlight for a 24 hours to macerate; somewhere like a window sill where it receives plenty of light is ideal. This step is somewhat unusual, but apparently a traditional step.
After 24 hours place the cloves, cinnamon stick and zest from the lemon and orange into the jar. Close the jar and leave in direct sunlight for the next 60 days.
For the first week shake the jar daily, then every few days. This helps to incorporate any sediment that may form on the bottom of the jar.
As the days go by you will notice that the colour of the nocino will change before your eyes. At first, it is a fine, bright green colour but then as the weeks pass it will get darker and darker.
At the end of the 60 days, in a small saucepan bring the water to boil and add the sugar. Turn down to a gentle simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once all the sugar is dissolved let the sugar syrup cool down to room temperature. Please note that most recipes that I came across use a lot more sugar, anywhere between 500-750 grams to 1 litre of alcohol. At first I thought that was a lot, but next time I will at least double my quantities and use 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water.
Place a funnel with several layers of unwashed (you don’t want detergents etc leeching) and unbleached cheese cloth, jelly bag or coffee filter paper (what ever you have available) over a clean jar.
Filter the alcohol, straining out the walnuts and spices. Again, be careful when you do this as the walnuts will stain your hands.
Once all the alcohol has been filtered out, mix in the cooled sugar syrup into the jar and shake the bottle to make sure everything has combined.
Bottle and seal it up place in a cool, dry dark place and wait patiently anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. In fact, Nocino will keep for years stored in a cool dry dark place. The nocino will initially taste rather bitter, but will mellow out and for the flavours to develop over time.
The left over green walnuts can be used to make a green walnut chutney – which is a great addition to a cheese plate.
Once ready, I filtered it again through several layers of clean cheese cloth into a clean fancy bottle, leaving all the settled residue behind.
The taste should be sweet and nutty with subtle hints of earth and greenery. Nocino can be enjoyed sipped after dinner, mixing into cocktails such as Manhattans or even poured over vanilla ice cream. Na Zdorovie!