Monday, March 18, 2013

Pistachio: Green Gold of Sicily

It is my experience that in the United States, pistachio is more likely to be associated with the Middle East than Sicily. Yet Sicily accounts for 1% of global pistachio production. 

Pistachio originated in the Mediterranean basin and was brought to Sicily by Arab conquerors sometime after the 11th century BC.  The pistachio tree thrives in Sicily’s rich volcanic soil and today pistachio production in Sicily is concentrated in Bronte, a town on the western slope of Mt. Etna. The Pistachio fruit is harvested from late August through October, when the famous Pistachio Festival takes place in Bronte. 

The word Pistachio,  Pistàkion in Greek, was likely corrupted to “fristach” in Arabic, which would explain why in Sicilian dialect the fruit is called “frastuca”.  But whatever the name, it is universally understood that pistachio is Sicily’s “green gold”.  It is ubiquitous in Sicilian cuisine and used in all aspects of Sicilian cooking, from pasta to meats, to desserts and liqueurs, as well as eaten plain and roasted.  Sicilian pistachio fruit has a highly refined flavor, and is considered by some to be the finest in the world.

I prepare pistachio in many ways including in a  simple but rich pesto for pasta.  One of my favorite Sicilian pasta recipes utilizing this delicious fruit is Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant and Pistachio. My cousin Lillina Oteri of Marsala, an accomplished cook, is master of this dish and I enjoy her version best.  
You will need swordfish (a quarter pound per person) cut into cubes;  3-4 eggplant, cut into cubes, salted and allowed to “sweat”;  1 clove garlic and 1 small onion minced;  a handful of fresh mint;  a  cup of pistachio that has been  toasted and finely chopped.  Short pasta of your choice such as strozzapreti or penne works best for this dish.  Set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil while you begin the sauce.

Rinse the eggplant and sauté it in olive oil until it is cooked and lightly browned and set it aside.  In a separate large sauté pan, begin browning the onion and garlic in olive oil, then add the swordfish cubes and sauté. Add the eggplant and gently mix, cooking a few minutes more.  Adjust for salt and add ground black pepper and chopped mint leaves to taste.
Drain the pasta which has been cooked “al dente” and add it to the sauté pan, gently mixing it together before plating.  Sprinkle toasted, chopped pistachio in place of cheese on each plate before serving.  Enjoy!

 Ciao a presto!

1 comment:

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