December 23, 2008

Nocino + Holiday wishes

As I said in the last post, this is the year for making homemade gifts. Some people have always made fruitcakes (which I happen to love). My family always made Italian "pizzelles" (white snowflake-like cookies made with a kind of waffle iron) and my mom's sugar cookies were the favorite gift of all of my friends. My Aunt Kate made the best toffee and peanut brittle which we all looked forward to each year.

It's not surprising that these kinds of gifts are so much more appreciated than something you picked up at the mall. And this year they have a special significance I think. Not only because we're all in this "economic crisis" together, but because perhaps this downturn will make us focus more on inventive things we can do ourselves--even if they take a little more time and effort.

This year the one new thing I made that I'm really, really proud of is something I hope will inspire all of my friends and family to try their hand at making homemade gifts: Nocino.

In addition to the baking which is something I do every year, this year I wanted to try making one of my favorite things that friends in Italy give me-- homemade walnut liquer. In Italy it's a common "amaro"--an after-dinner drink--and it's almost always homemade. It's dark black and tastes like nuts and spices. It's the perfect winter warmer.

I gathered the walnuts from a neighbor with a huge walnut tree this fall. He didn't have a use for them so I went over there and took as many as I could carry. I followed a recipe I found on-line and then put it up to age for 40 days down in the crawl space of our house. Every once and while we would go down there and shake the bottles to mix up the alcohol, sugar and spices, each time more eager than the last to take a little sip. But we waited patiently.

And when it was time to strain it and pour it into little bottles, each with its own gift tag, I have to say it made me proud to write "homemade walnut liquer" just for you!

So in the spirit of giving from the heart and not the wallet, here is the best Christmas wish I could find. It's from Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall of River Cottage:

"And so it is with great pleasure that I wish you all, first and foremost, a sumptuous, delicious and yet highly relaxing Christmas; but thereafter, and not without a fairly eager sense of anticipation, a truly abundant and rewarding new year,

Or, to put it more succinctly,


Recipe for Nocino:

(The best is to have access to a walnut tree --either yours or a neighbor's. If not, try to ask your local farmer's market for about 30 nuts with their rinds. They should be dark green which means the nuts are immature, and almost the size of tennis balls.)

wash the nuts well and assemble these ingredients:

1 1/2 quarts of grain alcohol (available at most local liquor stores)
1 1/2 lbs (3 quarts) of sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
10 cloves
1 pint of water (plus another pint at the end if too strong)
rind of 1 lemon, cut into strips

Begin by quartering the nuts with a heavy bladed knife or cleaver. Wear gloves and do this outside on some newspaper as the walnut juice will stain. Put the nuts and the remaining ingredients in a jar, cover it tightly, and put it in a cool, dark place for 40 days, shaking it every two or three days.

Once the nuts have steeped, taste the nocino. If it's too strong, dilute it with some spring water. Then line a funnel with filter paper and strain the nocino into bottles of your choosing. When giving away, tell people they can age it for 6 more months in a cool, dark place or enjoy immediately.

(from, based on the recipe from Pellegrino Artusi's The Art of Eating Well).


  1. Your mom's sugar cookies were the best. She is an angel and always will be. What about uncle les? Was he any less of a culinary inspiration for this? These are the best recipes on the interweb! Thank you, Joyful!!

  2. Hmmm, Nocino! the last bottle Alessandra gave me in Italy is now gone; I now console myself with Costco-bought Limoncello and (yes, ma non dirlo in giro) Baileys Irish Cream, of all things... Keep a bottle for when we make it to Tennessee!