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The pistachio

6 April 2021
The legend tells how the Queen of Sheba, fond of pistachios, demanded all of the nuts in Persia for herself and her court. The pistachio owes its name to its Iranian origins: “pesteh” in Iranian, finally transformed into “pistacia” in Latin. However, the nut’s conquest of European food lovers started in Syria.

It was in that country that the Romans discovered it in AD 37 and took it back to Italy. At the same time, in the Mediterranean basin, Dioscorides, a Greek doctor and botanist, proclaimed the pistachio to be the most delicate nut. That reputation took some time, however, to cross the Alps and reach Central Europe. 

In the end, it was in Italian cookery that the pistachio came to prominence. It turns up in a varied range of recipes, both sweet and savoury. The country became the heartland of production for this coveted nut. Cultivated in Italy and Sicily, pistachio trees eventually arrived in southern France. In the 17th century, Louis XIV brought them to the port city of Marseille from Persia. 

But the pistachio is not confined to just cake recipes. Its understated role was to extend to savoury dishes as the Second World War came to an end. Pistachios can be added to a large number of stews, enhance tagines, and liven up rustic terrines. Playing a secondary, discreet role in patisserie, the nut can be found in traditional recipes from all across Europe. 

The green gold has even found its way into art, such as a Persian tale by Catherine Zarcate: “Le Loukoum à la pistache” (The pistachio Turkish delight). The story tells of a vizier who, following a plot against him, ends up in prison. From his deep, dark dungeon, the fallen vizier dreams of just one thing… a delicious pistachio Turkish delight. 

With an aperitif, roasted and salted, in sausages (as made by certain European producers), as an ingredient in Oriental pastries including baklava, and more… The pistachio has found its way onto our plates, from starter to dessert. And traditional ice creams and pastries are no different!

Favourite among pastry chefs is the green Bronte pistachio, which comes from Sicily, (Pistacchio Verde di Bronte), the only one that can claim Protected Designation of Origin status. Nicolas Bernadé, one of our Relais Desserts members, has paid special homage to the nut, combining it with chocolate with her cake Fleur de Bronte

Other recipes that honour the pistachio include:

Paris-Palerme by Nicolas Bernardé

Raspberry macaron by Marc Ducobu

Montebello by Daniel Rebert

Pistachio, mango and jasmine tart by Sébastien Bouillet

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