Most locals see walnut trees as neighborhood nuisances, scattering nuts across sidewalks and bombing the hoods of their cars. But every June, Italians see the trees as towering treasure troves of unripe, green nuts ready to infuse in spirits for nocino, a heady, spiced liqueur traditionally sipped straight and often cold during the winter months.

“Nocino is still kind of a surprise,” muses chef Cathy Whims, whose Italian kitchen Nostrana perfected its own nocino over the past five years. “It’s dark like coffee and has that Italian love of things that are unripe and bitter, but it’s sweet and round and soothing, too. It kind of blows people away.” The spirit takes six months to infuse, but this month is prime green-walnut time—so get picking. Your future self will thank you.

HOMEMADE NOCINO

(Makes 3 cups) 
Recipe courtesy former Nostrana bar manager Douglas Derrick

20 green walnuts, washed and quartered*
750 mL bottle of Everclear (190 proof)
1 cup water
1 cup fine sugar
½ vanilla bean, hulled and scraped
2 star anise
6 allspice berries
6 pink peppercorns
Peels of 2 lemons and 2 oranges, chopped
Large glass jar with lid
Cheesecloth 

1. Add walnuts to jar and cover with Everclear. Cap jar and let rest at room temperature.

SIX MONTHS LATER ...

2. In the first week of December, strain out nuts and discard. Add vanilla bean, star anise, allspice, peppercorns, and chopped citrus peel. Cover and let liquid rest for a week, agitating occasionally.

3. Strain out spices through cheesecloth. Let liquid rest for another week in the jar, without shaking. Then, slowly pour the liquid into a mixing vessel, letting the sediment on the bottom stay in the jar. Discard sediment. 

4. Whisk sugar and water into the mixture. Cover and let the flavors refine for one more week, then enjoy! Sip nocino straight; add sparingly (just a quarter or half ounce) to light, citrusy cocktails for a bold, spicy edge; or bottle for holiday gifts.

*Gather your own fallen green walnuts (discard nuts with black rot spots) or buy online or from local farmers and grocers while in season.