This is Nocino, a bittersweet liqueur made from green walnuts and particularly enjoyed in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland.
Nocino, a history
According to the Kulinarisches Erbe, Nocino is not unique to Ticino, though it's possible that it's been produced there in monasteries since the 1500s. Walnut spirits are popular throughout Europe, and the ticinese variety was probably introduced from Italy, possibly from Modena.
Like their famous chestnuts, walnuts also grow plentifully in Italian Switzerland (even up to 1200 m), and at one time they were an essential product. Walnut oil was used not only for cooking, but also as lamp oil. The advent of electricity and availability of other cooking oils may have slowed the growth of the trees, but also freed up more nuts to be used for booze.
Nocino is made by soaking green walnuts in spirit (usually grappa) until the liquid turns black and bitter, then adding sugar and spices to make a complex, nutty, bittersweet drink. Its production is linked to the Feast of St John on the 24 June. On the eve of that day, the monks would harvest the unripe nuts and set to work steeping their spirits.
Sometimes Nocino is referred to as Ratafià, which is actually larger category of drink, and seems to encompass many different spirits created by soaking fruits, nuts, and spices. The word Ratafià comes from the Latin 'rata fiat' (done deal, ratified) and signified the spirit that was imbibed after a contract or agreement had been signed.
I bought the bottle of Nocino above from a Nonna named Rosa at the Ascona market last week. My grandmother was also named Rosa so I took that as a sign to purchase the bottle, (or was it the fact that Nonna Rosa poured me a very generous tasting glass...). Regardless, her 2015 version is homemade, perfectly spiced, ridiculously delicious, and almost finished. Mostly because I made this biscotti and then proceeded to dip every piece in Nocino before consuming it.
100 g walnuts
120 g sugar
zest from one orange
50 g melted butter
1 shot Nocino
250 g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg white, whisked
Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F / gas mark 4.
Place your walnuts on a parchment lined baking sheet and toast briefly in the oven while it is warming up. They are done when they darken slightly and you are able to smell them. Let cool.
Put the sugar in a large bowl, then grate the orange zest over top. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar, making it damp and fragrant.
Whisk the melted butter, eggs, and Nocino into the sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in the cooled walnuts.
Now you will need to form the dough into two flat loaves, then place them on two parchment lined baking sheets. The dough is quite wet and sticky, so it's best to keep your hands wet as you are forming the loaves.
Brush the loaves with the whisked egg white, then bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are starting to brown slightly.
Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, then cut into long slices on the diagonal. Place these back on the baking trays and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until they are dry and browning at the edges.
For best results, dip in Nocino before eating.
- This is a pretty foolproof and adaptable biscotti recipe. My mum usually makes her with almonds or hazelnuts. You can also swap flavours (lemon zest, cinnamon).
- Nocino is pretty widely available in Europe and internationally: