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Filtering by Category: Preserves

Tonno sott'olio: Tuna preserved under oil


Tuna preserved in olive oil is the pride of the Calabrian pantry. Most Calabrians that live near the Tyrrhenian coast preserve their own. My parents did not, since they lived inland, but were fortunate to be able to buy good tuna. At the end of every summer vacation we would spend in Calabria my son would have me pack as many jars as would fit in my suitcase.

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Nocino (Walnut Liqueur)


June 24 is the day when people in Calabria and throughout Italy start the process of making nocino.  June 24 happens to be San Giovanni’s day  (St John’s day) and tradition has it that the green walnuts must be picked on this day to make the best nocino. Nocino is a dark-colored liqueur with a hint of spice, and  is typically served cold. It is considered a digestive in Italy but I like to use it in desserts. I make a walnut cake (the recipe will be in my book) that I serve with a custard sauce flavored with nocino and it is so good! I also drizzle it over ice cream.

I have never made nocino; instead I have always brought it back with me from Calabria. The brand I buy  is made locally in Scalea and has a 35% alcohol content.

I have been talking about making nocino for years but every year I always seem to miss the date of June 24. This year, tho, I remembered. I called my friend Laura, who  happens to have a huge walnut tree on her farm, and asked her if she could pick two dozen green walnuts on June 24 for me.  She brought me 27 walnuts and I used them all, even though I heard once in Calabria that you must use exactly 24 walnuts as it is June 24. I don’t think a couple of extra walnuts will ruin it. I was trained as a scientist, so I figure that the more surface area there is, the more I can extract, right? Or should I be a good Calabrian girl and follow the traditional ritual?

If you are interested in making nocino I am sure that you can still make it in the next couple of days if you can find some green walnuts.  If not, you can wait until next June 24 or if you just want to try the liqueur, you can buy nocino made by Monteverdi Spirits of Napa, California.

The only thing you need to make nocino is a couple dozen of unripe green walnuts...

some spices, and a bottle of Everclear grain alcohol, 151 proof.

I guess you could use vodka but in Italy it is made with grain alcohol and I have always used Everclear to make my limoncello so I decided to do the same for nocino.

You need to cut the walnuts in half lengthwise, and then quarter each half. You will end up with eight pieces.

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the  cutting board.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the spices in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol. I didn't have quite the right size -- my jar is a little too big but it will do.

After 40 days, the liquid  looks dark brown in color.

Filter the dark colored alcohol from the  walnuts and spices and add a cool simple syrup (3 cups sugar dissolved in 1 liter water) to the filtered alcohol.  Put it away for 40 days in a cool place.  After  40 days it is ready to be bottled and stored in a cool place.

The homemade nocino was as good, if not better than the one I brought back from Calabria.


Walnut Liquer

For a printable recipe click here

2 dozen or so green walnuts (I used 27)

1 bottle of Everclear (151 proof), 750 ml

Zest of one lemon (unsprayed)

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves

1 vanilla bean, split

4 cups water (1 liter)

3 cups sugar

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the cutting board.

Cut the green walnuts in quarters lengthwise, and then cut each quarter in half. You will end up with eight pieces per walnut.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla bean in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp-type lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol.

After 40 days, the liquid should look dark brown in color.

After this time, make a simple syrup by placing 4 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar in a pan over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled before adding it to the infused alcohol or the liquer will become cloudy.

Filter the alcohol from the green walnuts and spices and add the cool simple syrup to it.  Then put it away in a cool place for another 40 days.

After 40 days, you can bottle it and store it.  It will be perfect for Christmas!

Makes about 2 liters of nocino

Crema di Limoncello


What do you do when life gives you lemons? I make limoncello with the Meyer lemons from my tree.

Last week I made a batch of limoncello and crema di limoncello, which I learned to make from my cousins. In Calabria people make all types of liqueurs, infusing grain alcohol with different fruit, herbs, flowers, even hot peppers. (The most unusual liqueur I have ever tasted in Calabria was at Villa San Domenico in Morano Calabro where the owner had infused the alcohol with porcini mushrooms.) It is a custom to offer a bicchierino (little glass) of liqueur when someone comes by to visit. Most waiters in Calabria won’t leave you alone until you have a little glass of limoncello or other infused liqueur after dinner.

Limoncello is very easy to make: you just need some lemons that haven't been  sprayed or waxed, a bottle of Everclear and some sugar. Crema di limoncello, the recipe for which I give you below, has one extra ingredient: milk.

Wash your lemons and remove the peel with a very sharp peeler or knife, being careful to remove only the yellow part of the lemon.  You don’t want any of the white pith--this will make the limoncello bitter.

Place the peels with the alcohol in a  jar with a hermetic seal.  I use this jar that is large enough to hold the peels and the alcohol, and has a tight seal.  Leave the peels in the alcohol for a week.

After a week, strain the alcohol and add the cooled sugar syrup, made with either water for plain limoncello, or milk for crema di limoncello.  That is all there is to it. Leave it alone for a week and then enjoy a little glass as an after-dinner drink.

Crema di Limoncello (left) and Limoncello (right)

Crema di Limoncello

(Creamy lemon liqueur)


Peeled zest of eight lemons

1 bottle of grain alcohol (750ml)  (Everclear 151 Proof)

6 cups of whole milk

4 cups of granulated sugar

1. Remove the peel of the lemons taking care to peel only the yellow part and none of the white.  If any white pith is left on the peel it will make the limoncello bitter.

2. Pour the alcohol in a bottling jar that will hold at least three quarts and add the lemon peels.  Close the jar with a tight fitting lid and leave to infuse for one week in a dark cool place.

3. After this time, place the milk and sugar in a pot over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled.  For making regular limoncello this is very important; if the sugar syrup is still a little bit hot the limoncello will turn out cloudy instead of clear. Remove the lemon peels from the alcohol and then add the cold milk syrup to the jar and mix well.

4. Pour the crema di limoncello through a fine sieve lined with clean cheese cloth and decant it into bottles.  Close the bottle with a cork or lid. Leave to rest for at least a week in the freezer before using it.

Crema di Limoncello is always served cold.  I keep it in the freezer once opened.

Limoncello Variation: If you wish to make limoncello, just replace the milk with water.  Boil the water and sugar and let it cool.  Follow the rest of the recipe.  Keep refrigerated or in the freezer once made.

Makes 3 quarts.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

How to make mosto cotto


This past weekend we had our annual wine-making day. We buy Zinfandel grapes from a farmer (no, we don’t grow our own grapes here in the Bay Area) and then crush them in my dad's basement, which is where he makes and stores wine, and cures salumi.

My entire family works for a couple of hours until all the grapes are crushed. I then steal some of the juice to make mosto cotto.

The ancient Greeks in Calabria were the ones who began cooking grape juice and using it as a sweetener. In fact the original mostaccioli cookies were made with flour and mosto cotto. People in Calabria would even drizzle it on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta. It is very sweet, with a concentrated grape flavor and a taste of caramel. Nowadays it has been replaced with honey. In other regions of Italy mostocotto is also known as sapa.

There are many traditional desserts still made in Calabria that use mosto cotto, most of them at Christmas time. People use it to sweeten cuccia, a porridge-like dessert of cooked wheat berries for Santa Lucia Day, December 13. It is also used in the filling of petrali, cookies filled with dried figs and nuts, as well as a tossing for turdilli, a sweet fried dough.

I think it's wonderful to drizzle on top of pecorino cheese and pears, or ice cream, or homemade ricotta. You can use it wherever you would use a dark honey.

To make mosto cotto you must buy wine grapes that are high in sugar, which means that ordinary table grapes won’t work. After crushing them, you get unfiltered grape juice:

You can see the seeds and skins still in the juice. After you filter it, bring the juice to a boil in a pot, then skim it:

Slowly cook it until it is reduced by 2/3 the original volume.

This will take close to 2 hours. Watch it carefully towards the end so you don’t over-reduce it or burn it. It should have the thickness of maple syrup:

Cool the syrup, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, and decant it into clean bottles with a cork or clasp seal. Store it in a cool, dark pantry or refrigerate. It will keep for at least a year.

I hope that some of you who have access to wine grapes will try this out; making it has become a lost art, even in Calabria.

Canning Tomatoes: the entire process


The detailed recipe for canning tomatoes will appear in my upcoming book, My Calabria, but I think you will get a good idea of what is involved by just looking at all the photos below.

We picked over 100 pounds of tomatoes in the first harvest and ended up canning 32 jars, not counting the tomatoes I brought to my cooking class. It takes on average 2.5 to 3 pounds of tomatoes to fill a quart jar. The canning took only three hours, with my husband, my son, and my mother all helping out.

Cleanliness is extremely important when canning. The first step is to clean the tomatoes well and make sure your jars are also clean.

We put the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds:

and quickly chill them in ice water:

Once they are cooled the skin is peeled:

Each tomato is then cut in half:

The seeds and core are removed:

The tomatoes are then placed in colanders to drain until we have enough tomatoes ready to be packed in jars. Here my mom is packing them:

Then she is pushing them tightly with a wooden spoon to remove all the air and gaps:

Once packed and sealed the jars go in a water bath, where they are boiled for one hour.

Here is the finished product to be put away for the winter months, so that throughout the year we can enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes. There is nothing like it!

Since last week, I have picked even more tomatoes in a second harvest and will be canning about 25 more jars tomorrow.