Nocino (pronounced "no-chee-no") is an Italian walnut flavored liquour that is made by infusing alcohol (in this case, vodka) with the flavor of walnuts, spices (cloves and cinnamon), lemon zest, vanilla and sugar. Recently I had the opportunity to taste some home-made nocino, then mix up a batch for myself and some friends. Naturally I had to participate in this spontaneous adventure in kitchen alchemy.
Part of the appeal in making the nocino is the fact that it requires some time and a little daily ritual. The actual mixing of the concoction is dead easy: Pour some vodka in a big bowl, add the sugar, zest and spices, and stir it up until blended. Then chop some green (very unripe) walnuts into pieces and portion them out evenly into mason jars. Cover the walnut pieces with the vodka-sugar-spice mixture and seal them tightly.
For the recipe and a thorough explanation of the process, (including warnings not to stain your fingers with walnuts!) I refer you to Elise's blog Simply Recipes. It was Elise who instigated this nocino-making party, after a few of us helped clean up from the food blogger's pot-luck.
Mixing the nocino requires only a few minutes, but it takes about two months before the flavors have fully infused the alcohol with the deep, intense flavor of walnuts and spices. It's fun to watch the contents of the jar change in color from bright green to a dark mahogany brown, then black as the walnuts stain the vodka with their essence.
Here's the daily ritual part: Every day, while the nocino is stewing and brewing in the jar, you have to pick it up and tumble the jar around in your hands a few times. I do this every morning while I brew my coffee, and then at night before I go to bed.
I like this ritual of tumbling the nocino jar. It only takes a few seconds, and it keeps me in touch with the process of distilling and waiting for good things to come. It reminds me that not everything worth having can be had instantly. The nocino jar puts me in a meditative frame of mind, reflective and patient, waiting not only for the very literal results of a tasty liquour, but for the more esoteric results of a life steeped in meaning. It inspires me to look for the hidden and valuable essence of life.