Made in Bronte
In Bronte, the pistachio has been grown for over a thousand years. Its history began around 900 AD when the Arabs – after having conquered the island – began to cultivate the plants that until then had grown in the wild. Today, on the slopes of the Etna volcano there are almost 4,000 hectares of plantations extending over steep and rugged slopes, where the plow cannot pass.
The farmers have been able to reclaim the hostile land by creating a small paradise with plants sprouting from the rock. It is an extraordinary union between the vegetation and the lava soil that over time, continuously fertilized by the ashes of the active volcano, has fostered the production of a pistachio that is quite unique. Unique in its taste, aroma, and properties.
From harvest to processing
Harvesting is done on a biannual basis, taking place in odd years between the end of August and the beginning of September. On average more than 3 million kg of pistachios are harvested, equal to 1% of global production. It is done completely by hand. The freshly picked fruits are placed inside a container carried on the shoulder. Alternatively, they are made to drop on tarps at the foot of the trees by shaking the trunk. They are then “hulled” (separated from the husk, its leathery covering) by mechanical rubbing and dried in the sun for three or four days.
Until a few decades ago the shelling was done manually in the homes of the producers. The farmers placed pistachios on the edge of a large block of lava stone empty inside and, with infinite patience, they used hammers to break the shell. Today this processing is carried out mechanically.
This is then followed by peeling through a highly technological process, the fruit briefly being exposed to high pressure steam. In this regard, it is interesting to note that pistachios are peeled only upon request because once deprived of their natural protection they tend to fade.
The pistachios then go through a complex drying circuit at low speed, and from here into an electronic sorting machine that discards any products of improper colour.
A delicious fruit
Its use in culinary preparations is becoming increasingly widespread.
It can be used as a whole fruit or chopped, ideal for decorating desserts and trays of gelato. Pistachio paste makes it possible to produce treats with an irresistibly refined taste.
It is also a key ingredient in brittle, chocolate, honey, liqueurs, Easter eggs and panettone. It can also be used to give a special touch to savoury foods, including cured meats like mortadella, salami, and sausage, as well as cheeses like caciotta and pecorino. It can be used in the kitchen to make a pesto worthy of true connoisseurs, ideal for serving on pasta, rice, and gnocchi. Not to mention its use in recipes with meat or fish, or even in savory pies.
Only the real one
The Bronte pistachio has some peculiar characteristics that distinguish it from the fruits grown in other regions of Sicily (Caltanissetta or Agrigento) or in other parts of the world, like in the Middle East, Greece, California, and Argentina.
The Consortium for the Protection of the Bronte Green Pistachio, which protects the fruit, defines it as “Our treasure to be safeguarded.” Because the region is in fact a true treasure chest that contains its “green gold.”
In 2010 it earned the PDO mark and therefore only the original one can include the words “Bronte Green Pistachio PDO” on the label.
There are many gelato and pastry shops that try to stand out by using this precious pistachio with its unmistakable green colour and refined taste. To be sure of its authenticity it is sufficient to check some of its exclusive characteristics.
If the pistachios are peeled, the first thing to do is look at their shape, which is never round but always longish.
The skin of the peel is another aspect to be considered: it must have a colour that tends to purple (or rather eggplant), with light green reflections.
Once divided in half, the nut has an emerald green colour due to a particularly high concentration of chlorophyll. The green can be more or less intense, but will never ever tend to yellow. This colour is very evident also in the chopped version, and here again there will never be any yellow areas.
At this point, only the taste remains. The flavour tends to be sweet and that’s why the Bronte pistachio PDO is never salted. Its aroma is so strong and persistent that it does not require any ingredient that could alter its flavour.
ONE PLUS TWO
The most widespread variety of Bronte pistachio is the White or Neapolitan (95% of production), followed by the Agostana and Natalora (which together make up the remaining 5%).
The plots of land used mainly for pistachio groves belong to more than 3,500 families in Bronte, out of a total of 7,000 families who reside there.
Ingredients (for 6 people):
- pistachios 500 g
- sugar 500 g
- flour 100 g
- lemon 1 grated rind
- cinnamon as needed
- cloves as needed
- egg white as needed
Crush the pistachios with peel together with the sugar.
Flavour with cinnamon, cloves, grated lemon and mix with the egg white. The dough must be soft, but of the right consistency. Add the flour and bake at 150-180°C.
(from the Pro Loco Bronte recipe book)