Ingredient of the Week: Pistachios

By Bettina Campolucci Bordi

10 months ago

The lowdown on the versatile nut


Looking to up your skills in the kitchen? Becoming a better cook is all about getting to know the fundamentals of ingredients. We’ve enlisted the help of plant-based chef Bettina Campolucci Bordi to guide us on some of the key fruits, vegetables, spices and other ingredients, sharing their history, ideas for uses and a recipe. Up this week: pistachios.

Ingredient of the Week: Pistachios

From the vibrant medleys of plant-based dishes that grace my table, one ingredient has always held a special place in my heart: the pistachio. Its delicate crunch, subtly sweet flavor, and rich, buttery texture has always been, in my opinion, an embodiment of nature’s generosity. 

Pisatchio macaroons

History

But pistachios are not just about their delightful taste. Their journey from the ancient landscapes of the Middle East to our plates is a remarkable story of cultural exchange, perseverance, and a testament to the beauty of nature’s bounty. Pistachios are an ancient food. Archaeologists have found evidence of consumption dating back as far as 7,000 BC in present-day Iran. Revered as a symbol of wellness and robust health, pistachios travelled westward with traders along the Silk Road into the Mediterranean regions. Persian high courts viewed them as a symbol of prosperity and wealth, while the Queen of Sheba decreed pistachios as royal food, reserving the best harvest for her court.

The world’s love affair with pistachios continued to grow, and by the first century AD they made their way into Italian and Greek cultures. Pistachios thrived in the sunny, dry climates of the Mediterranean, and over the centuries, cultivation expanded to other regions with similar weather, including California and Australia. Today, Iran, the United States (primarily California), and Turkey are the leading producers of pistachios. Each region offers its unique characteristics – Iranian pistachios are known for their distinct flavor and deep red-purple hue, Turkish ones for their rich, buttery taste, and Californian for their bright green kernels and high yield.

Uses

Choosing the best pistachios comes down to a few factors: freshness, quality of processing, and ethical sourcing. Pistachios should have a vibrant green colour when shelled and a pleasant, nutty aroma. I always recommend buying them in their shells: not only is it fun to crack them open, but it also ensures they haven’t been overly processed. When it comes to sourcing, it’s essential to choose pistachios from growers that follow sustainable farming practices and pay fair wages to their workers. The power of conscious eating lies in our hands, and every choice we make can positively impact the food industry. 

Pistachios

Now, let’s talk about how to integrate these green gems into our cooking. I find pistachios incredibly versatile: their slightly sweet flavour pairs wonderfully with both savoury and sweet dishes. For breakfast, sprinkle some chopped pistachios on your plant-based yogurt or blend them into your smoothie for a protein boost. In salads, they provide a delightful crunch, while in pestos, they offer a creamy texture and a delightful twist on the classic recipe.

Pistachios are fantastic for baking as well. Try folding them into cake batter, cookie dough, or using them in a nutty, crunchy tart base. And let’s not forget the famous Middle-Eastern dessert, baklava, where pistachios truly shine. One of my favourite ways to enjoy pistachios is roasting them lightly with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and perhaps a hint of chili flakes for those who like a bit of heat. This simple snack is not just delicious but packed with nutrients.

Benefits

Pistachios are a good source of healthy fats, fibre, protein, and antioxidants. They contain more potassium and vitamin K per serving than other nuts, promoting heart health. Plus, they’re rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants vital for eye health. 

Here is a lovely recipe for making your own jar of goodness.

Recipe: Pistachio & Orange Butter

Ingredients:

  • 300g pistachios, shelled
  • 70g coconut oil
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla powder or paste
  • 1-2 tbsp maple syrup or sweetener of your choice (optional)

Method:

  1. Put pistachios on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 5-10 minutes, checking regularly to make sure that they don’t burn.
    Remove and leave to cool completely.
  2. Put them into your blender and blend on speed one for five minutes. If necessary, open the lid and use a spatula to push down the build up of pistachios on the sides of the blender.
  3. Then add the coconut oil and continue to blend on speed one for approx three to four more minutes. Now add the vanilla and orange zest and blend quickly on a high speed to combine.  You can also add a sweetener like maple syrup now if you want however this is optional.
  4. Decant into a glass jar, label, and enjoy!