The pistachio, a little green gem of a nut, holds an incredibly special place in the culinary world. Its flavour is earthy and rich, and it has the ability to elevate and marry with other ingredients both savory and sweet. From the lovely specks that dot a slice of mortadella, to a beautiful crust on an involtino, to a luscious and creamy spread, its taste is sublime and its versatility in the kitchen is incredible.
The pistachio has ancient and noble origins, dating back thousands of years, in fact reference is made to it in the book of Genesis. Pistachios have long been revered for their medicinal properties being used as antidotes against the bites of poisonous creatures by the ancient Greeks. It was even believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Today, its medical properties are numerous. The oil extracted from the fruit is particularly delicate and finds application in dermatology for its high emollient and softening quality. It has a high concentration of protein and vitamins such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium which are found to be useful in combating heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic conditions.
Health benefits aside, the dried fruit of the Pistacia Vera tree has become a sought-after ingredient in the world of gastronomy. While it is seen as a primary ingredient in Middle eastern cuisine, some of the world’s greatest pistachios are cultivated in Italy’s south. The Arabs, who once controlled the region of Sicily, are responsible for bringing pistachio trees from the Middle East. The leading producer of pistachios for all of Italy is the Sicilian city of Bronte, in the Province of Catania. Perched atop a slope of volcanic rock, located about half a mile northeast of Etna, its conditions are ideal for growing the precious fruit, mineral rich soil and the Sicilian sun and air.
Due to the limited production and laborious cultivation of pistachios they are an expensive commodity (since 2011 in fact, carabinieri have been on guard at the foothills of Bronte to safeguard against thieves during harvest season). The trees only bear fruit every two years and are planted in areas that prevent the use of machines for harvesting meaning they are hand-picked (farmers shake each branch of the tree to drop the bunches of fruit which are then gathered in a container carried on the shoulder). The harvest takes place every two years, during the first weeks in September of uneven years. On the off years, farmers discard the newly formed fruit to give the tree a chance to rest and recuperate nutrients.
Their distinct emerald hue and pure delicate flavour have made them prized the world over, earning them the name of “green gold” along with a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) certification from the European Union in June 2009. The distinguishing characteristics of the Bronte DOP pistachio are appearance, aroma, and taste. A true Bronte pistachio is elongated in shape, with a thin husk and the seed is a bright green color. Its scent is woody and natural, and its flavour is sweet (the Bronte pistachio is never salted).
The intense, full flavour and grassy aroma of Bronte pistachios has made them an essential ingredient in many Sicilian recipes, whether used whole or as a paste. The treasured pistachios are used in a wide gambit of applications including risotto, sauces, pesto, casseroles, roulades, fritters, arancini, cookies, cakes, brittle, nougat, spreads, puddings, marzipan, and ice-cream. A number of pistachio products such as honey, oil and liqueur are also produced from the harvest and are often sampled during the Sagra del Pistacchio, the pistachio festival held in the region from September 29 to October 7.
One taste of authentic Bronte DOP immediately makes you understand why it is the most valuable and famous variety of pistachio in the world.