When you think about the autumn season you may picture crisp orange and golden yellow leaves falling from trees but if you travel to Etna’s western slopes during the month of October you might find yourself surrounded by green and purple.
Even though today in Italy, most of the pistachios are imported from Iran and Iraq; that was not always the case. Sicily, especially around Mt. Etna, has produced some of the finest quality pistachios in Europe. They were originally brought over from who are thought to be the Phoenicians and they are used in a variety of sweets and desserts.
The lava soil in the Bronte area of Sicily, being so close to Mount Etna, gives the pistachio a distinctive flavor much different than other varieties of pistachios even on the island of Sicily. The pistachios grown in this area are much longer and thinner than other varieties. They also have a sharp more unique flavor which is due to the different soil. Pistachios are all harvested by hand but separated by machine to split the shell from the nut. Then the nuts are set out to dry before being able to snack on.
Pistachios are key ingredients in Sicilian cooking and you will find them in both sweet and in savory dishes. Some of the most common dishes using pistachios are gelato and ice cream, as fillings in the special bread called panettone, and as toppings in various sweets such as baklava, cookies, chocolate, and in cannolis; which are another Sicilian specialty. Other than sweets, people use the “green gold” in pesto and as seasonings for meat and fish. A popular dish on the island is farfalle pistacchi e pancetta which is pasta and pancetta with a cream sauce made from pistachios.
In Bronte, which is the capital of pistachios, you can attend the Pistachio festival in early October. Set in the beautiful park of Mt. Etna you can enjoy many different dishes showcasing this prized nut. The festival draws in local artists who display their creations in markets where you can buy things like paintings, crafts, and street art. Local farmers also get to present their artisan goods like cheese, honey, and sweets. Be sure to try the pistachio pesto. Some people swear that it is better than it’s pine nut cousin’s version. Another typical treat during the festival is a pistachio cream which is like nutella but omitting the hazelnuts for the Sicilian nut.
In addition to the food and shops one can also sit back and hear traditional music during the two week festival. If you love history you can visit the Museo della Raccolta in Piazza Piave. It’s a museum showing the history of the machines and harvesting techniques of this particular crop. At only a hour drive away from the venue of the International Wine Tourism Conference, Exhibition and Workshop 2017 (Catania), Bronte is the perfect place to spend a day learning more about their pistachios and trying dishes and treats made from the green and purple nut. They are often regarded as Italian gastronomic excellence and it’s worth the time to find out why. Follow the hashtag #SicilyisAwesome