Despite their diminutive size, pistachios go by a lot of big names. Some people call them by their Latin name, Pistacia vera. In China, their smiling shells have earned them the title of “the happy nut.” Others perplexingly call them green almonds, although there was a time when pistachios from the Middle East were dyed red to disguise imperfections inflicted by the harvesting process. Modern techniques in California leave the shell unblemished so they’re shipped au naturel, but western crops are faced with different challenges.
Allan Jonas, co-founder of the Nut Man Company, says that four years of drought in California and the drop in the Canadian dollar have made pistachios “like little treasures” – and not just because they’re shaped like miniature strongboxes. “Prices have almost doubled,” he says. “It hasn’t been this bad in 30 years.”
Those in the know about pistachios’ charms won’t mind shelling out a bit extra, though. “It’s a great nut,” says Akram Hasni, pastry chef at Bon Ton Bakery. “Pistachios have a unique flavour with a little bit of sweetness, but not a lot of calories.” Bon Ton uses the nut in its Pistachio Daquoise and Pistachio Mud Cake, as well as in cookies, mousse, creams and macarons. They’re versatile: they provide a vital crunch when ground up and sprinkled on a cake, and accentuate the flavour of other nuts in a granola mix. “We can play with pistachio as a component in so many preparations,” Hasni says.
Also no stranger to the pistachio game is Tom Ursino, owner of Pinocchio Ice Cream. “It’s become one of our more popular flavours,” he says of his pistachio gelato, which is made of a pure pistachio paste from Italy. “It’s not an intense flavour,” he says, but more “pure and nutty.”
Less is More
Although they’re instrumental in the above preparations, the only thing you really need to do to enjoy pistachios is snap them open. The shells protect the kernel from disease and damage, but they’re no match for adroit fingers. However, pistachio shells might be outsmarting humans in a different way.
Those who subscribe to the Pistachio Principle believe that simply seeing a pile of discarded shells makes people feel equally satisfied after eating less. The nuts are filled with fibre, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, possibly making them the perfect snack.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pistachios, Parmigiano and Balsamico
Courtesy of Mary Bailey, thetomato.ca,and Daniel Costa, Corso 32
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cleaned
3 tbsp pistachios, roasted at 350F for eight minutes
2 tbsp high-quality balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
2 knobs butter, cut into small pieces
1.5 tsp kosher salt
6 fresh sage leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Cut sweet potatoes in half-moon -inch pieces.In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and sage.
3. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Keep them close to avoid burning. Bake for 15 minutes, remove pan from oven and evenly distribute cold butter over them. Return pan to oven and continue cooking for 10 minutes or until potatoes are cooked and caramelized.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool for five minutes. Taste and season with salt if needed.
5. Place cooked potatoes on a serving dish and grate Parmigiano over them to taste. Drizzle with balsamico and top with pistachios and black pepper to taste.
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