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Ever since I was a child, every time I read the Bronte pistachios card in the ice cream shop, I would ask myself "what does a pistachio plant look like"? Above all though, I would ask myself "What makes this variety so unique and special"?
This is why, during my last journey to Sicily, I decided to aim directly for the slopes of Mount Etna to discover something more about the so called "green gold" as the Bronte pistachios are called – the most important economic resource of that area, and from 2009 granted the DOP marque (Protected Designation of Origin), following the Slow Food movement.
What are Bronte pistachios?
The "real pistachio" is a plant of Persian origin with an intense emerald colour and grows up to six meters in height: Bronte produces 1% of the world's output, 80% of which is sold outside of Italy.
Leaving the village, facing a pistachio plot, I satisfy my initial curiosity; its tree, with a short and bulky trunk, resembles that of a fig tree. It can live as long as 300 years and develops very slowly. It becomes productive only after 10 years. This, in addition to the fact that it must be harvested by hand by shaking the fruit off, collecting them up and placing them onto a ground-sheet, justifies the price.
Of the 3500 hectares under specialised pistachio cultivation in the area of Bronte, one part is located in the Etna Park and yields 80% of the region's production.
The Bronte pistachio is sweet, delicate and fragrant. Above all it is unique and for this, along with its size and its brilliant green colour, is greatly appreciated in European and Japanese markets. The sensation on the palate of a quality pistachio is high in fat content, with a fragrant and lightly salted taste and notes of resin and a mineral base due to the Laval ground on which it grows.
How are the Bronte pistachios produced?
The town of Bronte waits apprehensively, every two years in the month of September, to harvest the fruits of a tiring labour. The harvest lasts about one month.
For 30 days, the village is deserted as everyone – young and old, students and employees, women and children – ignoring the heat, are in the holdings, shaking the branches, collecting up the precious fruit, "hulling" them and lovingly allowing them to dry.
When the fruit matures, the shell becomes white. As stated, the plants fruit every two years. The growers cut the buds every summer in order to increase the yield the following year. The next harvest will be in the Autumn of 2017.
How is it consumed?
Bronte pistachios, the "green gold", are eaten shelled and salted, and have great adaptability, both in the kitchen and the patisserie. They are used in the confectionary industry, above all for cakes, pastries, torrone, mousses, confections, ice creams and slushys. Here are some examples of recipes with pistachios.
Ever more frequently we find them in Southern Italian style pestos for flavouring pasta, in meat stuffing and inside the famous Arancini (Sicilian stuffed rice balls). And to finish up, it is also used in the preparation of sausage, excellent in Mortadellas and in salamis, and even in the cosmetics industry.
My favourite way of tasting them? In the form of pesto for flavouring a dish of artisan spaghetti, blending basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, Bronte pistachios, almonds, a mix of grated grana Padano and pecorino, and salt. Even better with a glass of cooled Cattarratto, sat on a terrace facing the sea!