Is this your first time reading Curious Appetite? If the answer is no, and you already follow on facebook and instagram, then you’ll know how obsessed I am with pistachios!
It all started when a fiery Sicilian-American woman met an Iranian guy with a ‘fro in a club back in the early 80’s. A few years later they made me and ever since, I was exposed to many exotic flavors as a result of being born to a Sicilian/American mother and an Iranian pop. I’d say my Sicilian food memories are mostly associated with rich tomato sauces, eggplant things and homemade cannoli. However the fact that my dad’s side of the family were born in Iran, I’ve probably had a deeper exposure to Iranian culture than my Italian side who are generations separated. I am extremely proud of my heritage and am so grateful to have been exposed to so much diversity growing up. Not only did I come from a multi-cultural upbringing, my parents both worked in the art industry. My mom a painter/sculptor and my dad owning an art gallery. I’ve been really fortunate because I believe these memories and stimuli helped me as an adult to appreciate and seek out culture. Current events deeply sadden me as well as the warped ideas people have towards middle-eastern culture and society- they hold some of the world’s most delicious treasures and rich history. Not to mention, how beautifully warm the people are.
I can only speak about my family of course, but I think the closeness and importance on family, food and togetherness my family taught me, helped me when integrating into Italian society. And these lenses also helped me in recognizing good food and food culture. I’ve said this once before perhaps so pardon the redundancy, but I think one key to the issues that peril the new world regarding food and consumption is a lack of food culture. The old world has a more convoluted history, stronger rituals and culture surrounding food. I really think these rituals, habits and culture surrounding food naturally guide people to form healthy relationships with food.
What does this have to do with pistachios? Food, when written, should have a story or context associated with it. I’m particularly fond of flavors and ingredients like pistachio because it reminds me of family gatherings at my aunt’s where we snack on dried fruits, pistachios, Iranian sweets (usually with pistachios, honey and/or walnuts) while sipping on bitter Iranian tea. Or when my aunt brings out the pistachio specked Iranian bastani (persian ice cream with rose water and saffron) which she has sandwiched between thin wafer cookies and wrapped in aluminum. Every time I have that combo of rose and pistachio, like the many Mondays I visit Perche No when they have rose gelato, I can almost hear that aluminum wrapper being peeled away to indulge in a delicacy with one of the women I love most on this planet. Living far away from my family, and in a place where Pistachios are also highlighted, these tastes incite memory for me. And I’m happy to be surrounded by pistachios in Italy.
Pistachios are one of the most ancient foods on earth. They were one of the two nuts mentioned in the Old Testament and one of the original crops in the Middle East’s fertile crescent. Historically, its cultivation is most notable in Iran and is traced back to ancient Persia. It’s actually technically not even a nut but a kernel, which are nicknamed “the happy nut” by the Chinese since when the kernels cause the shell to split open like a smile when they ripen. The pistachio tree grows its goods in bunches and are best if allowed to ripen and open naturally on the tree. So if you get a bag of pistachios and many are barely split, this is a sign that they were not fully ready to be plucked. Doing some light research, you find that the origins of Pistachios in Italy can be attributed to the Arabs and are traced back to Syria as far back as 30AD. In Sicily, the Arabs dominated the region from 827-1040AD and it is suggested that during this reign is when Pistachio cultivation started to take flight. The area in Sicily most noted for Pistachio production is Bronte, located in the northern eastern Catania province. Apart from the historical valor of this food, it is favorable source of healthy fats, antioxidants like eye-loving lutein, that green color is thanks to its chlorophyll content and array of B-vitamins and minerals. I don’t think that the amount of pistachio in the obscene amount of gelato I eat is going to help my eyesight or fight cancer risk, but this pesto just might.
Recipe for Pistachio Pesto by Curious Appetite
- 1 cup shelled pistachios, salted or unsalted, roasted or unroasted depends on your taste (Tip: shell out the money for already shelled pistachios, I made the mistake of wasting my life and nails on opening every last one.)
- One clove of minced garlic, ideally from your local veg vendor or farmer’s market
- a bunch of basil (ideally from your garden or kitchen window sill of herbs)
- really good olive oil, extra virgin and from a mono-cultivar (that’s a whole other article)
- Sea Salt to taste- be careful if you are using salted pistachios!
- (note that no cheese is needed here!)
Put all ingredients in a food processor. Blend till smooth. You’ll have to scrap the sides every so often. On the olive oil amount- up to you! If you want a thinner pesto, use more oil and less nuts. If you want a thick, chunky pesto use more pistachios and less oil. But beware it’s a lot of work for your food processor, especially if mini like mine. Start with a 1/4 cup of oil to every cup of pistachios and work from there to get the desired thickness. On pistachio selection, hit up your local specialty store for Pistachios from Bronte like Eataly if you have one or order online. These pistachios however are in very limited production so if you can find them, they will be really expensive but worth it. Bronte is renowned for its rich volcanic soils and bold heat which produce flavorful pistachio meats.
Things to do with Pistachio pesto:
- Toss with pasta
- toss with vegetables like green beans, coined zucchini, sauteed kale, zucchini spirals, drizzle on grilled beets or vegetables, toss with cubed potatoes, fava beans and peas
- Use as a spread for turkey breast and heirloom tomato sandwiches
- a party spread for crackers
- Make a frittata with spooning in some to your egg batter!
- Toss with baked cauliflower florets, and other neutral vegetables
- a sort of compote for light cheeses like mozzarella
- spread on grilled steak or grilled chicken
- Mix with warm chickpeas
- What else can you think of?
Thank you so much for reading to this point, this means you know a little bit more about my personal history. I hope you’ll make this super easy pesto at home!
In your green heart,
Like this post? Want more updates on my curious adventures with food? Follow along on Instagram, add me on Snapchat and Like my Facebook page for so much more on Italian food and culture!