Sunday, June 24, 2007
Nuts about Nocino
“Would you ask Pina if I could have some noci?” Franco called to me as I picked up the phone.
He was using the Italian word for nuts, and referring specifically to green, unripened walnuts. Pina and her husband Romano, are friends from the small country town where we lived until recently. When we visit, they often give us fruits and vegetables from their usually overflowing gardens and various orchards.
“Oh, you're going to make some more nocino,” I said, pleased.
Nocino is one of Italy's many digestives – those potent alcoholic confections that wonderfully soothe a stomach upset by an incoming tide of too much of what's too good from the Italian table. These friends to digestion are generally made from base ingredients of various herbs, spices or fruits combined with high grade alcohol and, often, sugar. In nocino, the main ingredient is nuts.
One of the most wellknown Italian digestives is limoncello, best served ice cold. Other digestivi are of a wide variety and, ordinarily, are simply referred to as amari, or in English, bitters. Two others we have in our own home collection are Fernet Branca and Strega.
My favorite digestive, however, is the lesser-known nocino. It has a rich, sweet taste. Nocino isn't easy to find in bars or supermarkets, so we sometimes make our own. Or more precisely, Franco makes it and I drink it. He prefers, instead, that Italian superstar, grappa, a Humvee of a liqueur that would elicit a gasp from a rhinoceros.
Famous grappa brands include Nonino, and Franco's personal favorites, Nardini and Bertagnolli.
The first time I tasted nocino was a few months after I first arrived in Italy. One evening, after returning from having dinner with some friends, I was suffering the usual penance for gluttony, a stomach doing its best imitation of a miniature Vesuvius erupting. I bemoaned the injustice of the thing but resigned myself to hours of the inevitable suffering.
One of our wedding gifts was a bottle of homemade nocino which up to that moment had been residing in a kitchen cupboard, its pretty artisanal bottle unopened. Hearing my Eeyore like grumblings, Franco suggested I try some nocino. I scowled in doubt but consented to give it a try. The taste was delicious, and five minutes later my stomachache had disappeared.
To this day, I am still amazed at the seemingly magical healing effect of a couple of tablespoons of something so simple (actually one is enough, the second is just for pleasure).
Below is the recipe we use, as given to us by Romano. Other recipes for various Italian digestives, including nocino, can be found here.
Nocino by Romano
18 green (unripe) whole walnuts still in their rinds
1 quart alcohol – 190 proof (95%)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cloves
12 ounces sugar
1 quart water
Important tip: according to folk tradition, the walnuts should be picked on giorno di San Giovanni (St. John's Day, June 24).
Cut each nut (rind and all) into eight pieces (hint: definitely use gloves to prevent dark stains to skin). Put the alcohol, the nut pieces, the cinnamon and the cloves into a large jar that has a lid. Set the jar in a dark place and leave it for approximately forty days. When this time has elapsed, strain the nuts and alcohol mixture into another container. Discard the nut residue, and set the container of liquid aside.
Bring the water to a boil for five minutes, then remove from heat. Add the sugar to the water and stir until dissolved. Let this sugar mixture cool completely and then pour it into the nut alcohol mixture. Pour this combined liquid into a nice bottle, and make a label. The nocino is ready to serve.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
Copyright © Rebecca Helm-Ropelato