pistachios at a roadside produce stand, Bronte, Sicily

In May, I made a pilgrimage to my nonniland in Sicily to chase down pistachios in Bronte, wines on Etna, cheesemaking with the Sicilian tattooed Freddie Mercury, chocolate in Modica, wines in Sicily’s lone DOCG Vittoria by Arianna Occhipinti and more.

I wrote about the Etna leg on this blog post (i.e. pistachios, Etna wines and renegade cheesemaking) but I never quite got around to recounting Modica and Vittoria. I promise, in due time I will recount Italy’s most fascinating chocolate capital and the badass woman winemaker/trailblazer Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily’s lone DOCG Vittoria.

For now, I’ll recount what it was like to visit Bronte’s Annual Pistachio festival aka Expo del Pistacchio. My next post will detail why Catania’s La Pescheria might be one of the best markets in the world- so brace yourself for a flurry of blog posts!

 It should be no secret that I am obsessed with pistachios. Lots of people are. Although I’m particularly fond about them. I grew up eating pistachios, remember I’m half Iranian! I have distinct memories sitting around the living room or at family events shelling and snacking on Iranian pistachios and saffron rose water ice cream bastani speckled with the fruity kernel.

Iranians do food incredibly, but they do presentation for snacks just as impressively. In all the Iranian homes I’ve ever been in, at the living room table there is usually some sort of altar of snacks arranged in fancy glassware and ceramics overflowing with dried fruits & nuts, honey-drenched pastries speckled with walnuts or pistachios and it’s customary to have bold, nearly scalding hot bergamot scented tea while sitting around, chatting and snacking.

When I came to Italy, my obsession with pistachios continued to grow once I discovered Italians too have a particular fondness for them. Eventually, I came to learn the root of the Italian pistachio obsession came primarily from Bronte in Sicily. This tiny tissue square of land is prized for being the small village in Sicily titled for growing the best in the world due to its volcanic rich soil, thanks to its proximity to Mt. Etna.

Iran is (or at least was before all the stupid politics got involved) a large exporter of pistachios and account for over half of the world’s production of Pistachios. And while Bronte, the smallest producer in the world (accounting for about 1% of world production). I’ve only realized now the sentimental relationship I must have with pistachios- as being half Iranian with Sicilian mixed in. Pistachios are thought to have been introduced to Sicily by the Arabs, and while Iranians are not Arabs some archaeological evidence points to Iran’s neighboring Iraq with the first traces of pistachios as far as 7000BC. In other words, we can thank this part of the world for bringing pistachios to Sicily (via the Romans;)

So eating all the pistachio things in Bronte represents something symbolic to me, it’s a moment which marries both of the cultures I grew up with.

Every Fall, Bronte sets up the pistachio expo in which there are stands selling pistachio-based delicacies throughout the entire historical center. The trees provide these fruits every 2 years and next year will be turn for its harvest- so get to travel planning!

After visiting tree plots on craggy volcanic soil and production facilities in May, I decided I had to come back to Bronte in the Fall to see what this festival was all about. I’ll allow the pictures to tell the rest of the story

verdant hills of pistachioland
if you look yonder you’ll see that pistachio colored palazzo- cool, right?
plannin’ their next pistachio snack attack
gelato always topped with generous amounts of this green gem

the pistachio gelato here is so dense in pistachio that you pretty much have to chew it!

 

welcome to the city of pistachio- dreams DO come true!
pistachio bread and such
even a parade!!!
I cannot get over scenes like this
pistach brittle/croccante- not my thing personally but if brittle is your thing you’ll find it EVERYWHERE
this on the other hand, is indeed my thing (one is ricotta and pistachio filling, the other one is a pistachio custard filling)
Oh my how decadent Sicilian sweets are!
that shop down there is gold- all the lil’ old man sells are pistachios (shelled and in shell) by their own production
holy moly- so this was a pistachio truffle arancino. While I think most truffle-enhanced foods are garbage this was an acceptable pass for a guilty vice which did not just taste like artificial gunk
can’t say I’d eat this pizza but just to illustrate this city does not joke when they say they put it on EVERYTHING
This cafe/bakery “Conti” was pure gold
Bar Saitta is also where the money is at
run by 2 brothers and their mamma here- I love all their cookies, gelato, arancini, etc. Great for stocking up on bags of pistachios and “food souvenirs” 😉

missing in this gallery is a food called “la filletta” which is like a flat pancake of batter made with pistachios baked over coals and slathered in pistachio nutella, etc.

So would I go back again to the expo del pistacchio/pistachio festival in Bronte? Probably not. I love Pistachios and I love Bronte/Sicily but here are a few of my critiques on the expo/sagra and its organization:

-Go early, because by 1pm the streets are packed with very non-aware people/standing arounders and it’s very frustrating to navigate with little organization/sense.

-It’s pretty commercial and belongs in a showroom, not in the village streets

-There was maybe ONE or 2 artisanal-quality growers and producers- and I know there is a whole cooperative of these types of quality producers in Bronte so get in touch with me and I’ll put you in the right direction.

-most of the stands are commercial products made with ingredients of questionable quality. The production of Bronte pistachio is very limited, so I would suspect loads of products are cut with California/Iranian/Turkish pistachio

-There is so much traffic getting in and out of Bronte, little sense to the schedule of charter buses and ONE public bus per day from Bronte to Catania. When it was time for the ONE public bus to arrive, I guess all the same charter buses had the same idea and we literally were in traffic for an hour just from the bus stop to get on the highway back to Catania. No one at the info stands knew anything about the buses, the schedule or where to get the bus that I would not recommend this festival to any non-Italian speaker or anyone like me who is stubborn and suspicious of the hassle of renting cars/driving in Italy.

– Any of the foods worth eating were provided by the cafes/bakeries which are already in town which you can visit any time of the year.

If you visit Bronte, which I do highly suggest you do, perhaps do the following:

Visit during the pistachio harvest but the expo/festival is kind of a waste. Stay in Catania if you need the city (although apart from the fish market, Catania is a bit underwhelming) or stay in a small town like Randazzo (and visit Musumeci for outta this world granita/gelato) visit Bronte with a car/driver, eat all the things at Sport Bar Saitta, Bar Conti Gallenti or Pasticceria Bar L’Angolo Dolce and then contact me for suggestions for producers/farms to visit, etc

In your green gold trust,

Curious Appetite

 

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