The pistachio has ancient and noble origins, dating back thousands of years, since reference is made to it in the book of Genesis. It has long been revered for its medicinal properties. The ancient Greeks used it as an antidote against bites from poisonous creatures and believed it 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 dominated the region of Sicily between 950 and 1072, 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. 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.
Referred to as the “green gold of Bronte”, due to their limited production and laborious cultivation, pistachios are an expensive commodity. The trees only bear fruit every two years and are planted in areas that prevent the use of machines to harvest the fruit. The picking is done during the first weeks in September of uneven years.
The intense, full flavour and grassy aroma of Bronte pistachios have made them an essential ingredient in many Sicilian recipes, whether used whole or as a paste. While we all have enjoyed shelling and eating the pistachio as a snack or as one of our favourite ice-cream flavours, the fruit is also a tasty ingredient in penne al pesto di pistacchio, a traditional brontese dish, and many other exceptional recipes.
It is also used in a wide gambit of applications including: risotto, sauces, casseroles, roulades, fritters, arancini, cookies, cakes, brittle, nougat, spreads, and puddings. 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 famous pistachio festival held in the region from September 29 to October 7.