Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pistacchio di Bronte - A taste of Sicilian gold!

Following on from my post last month about my love for a 'festa Siciliana', this week's blog is about a different kind of Italian festa.......the 'sagra'. Sagras are celebrated in towns and villages throughout Italy and are local festivals often dedicated to a specific local food. Over the past week hundreds of visitors have descended upon the countryside town of Bronte, in the province of Catania, for its annual 'Sagra del Pistacchio'.

The town of Bronte can be reached from Catania by driving around the foot of Mount Etna and this is one of my favourite journeys in Sicily. The area may not boast the panoramic sea views of Taormina or Trapani but in my eyes it is almost equally as breathtaking. From the road to Bronte travellers can look far across the Sicilian countryside and view miles and miles of valleys and hilltop towns such as Regalbuto and Centuripe. When the sun is setting, it is truly beautiful to watch the shadows descend gradually down the deep valleys - a completely different world to the tourist filled coastal towns.

The mystical atmosphere that surrounds Bronte is even echoed in the town's origins. According to Greek legend, the town took its name from its founder, the Cyclops Bronte, and means 'the Thunderer'. In mythology a group of three Cyclops, including Bronte, lived under Mount Etna and made thunderbolts for Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, to use as weapons.

The pistachio which comes from the town is known as 'oro verde', or green gold, because of its value to the local economy. The value of the 3,000 hectares of Bronte pistachio actually amounts to around 15 million euros and over one percent of the world's pistachio. This pistachio is an ingredient in a wide variety of different dishes, both savoury and sweet, including pistachio salami, pasta al pistacchio and 'gelato al pistacchio', or pistachio icecream. My personal favourites are the 'paste di mandorla al pistacchio' which are soft Sicilian almond cookies with pistachio - truly buonissime!

The 'Sagra del Pistacchio' is worth a visit just to see how locals open up their private garages in order to let visitors sample one of their homemade pistachio dishes. For those who can't get to Bronte but would also like to indulge, here is the recipe for another of my pistachio favourites - 'torrone di pistacchio', or pistachio brittle -


50g butter, plus extra for greasing
100g light soft brown sugar
100g shelled pistachios

Lightly grease a baking tray with some extra butter; set aside. Heat a small heavy-based pan; add the butter, sugar and 4 tablespoons of cold water. Heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat and bring to a rolling bubble.
Cook for 5-7 minutes until the mixture starts to turn a deep golden brown. Tip in the pistachios and mix for a few seconds to coat the nuts in the caramel. Carefully and quickly pour the mixture on to the baking sheet. Leave to cool and harden.

Buon appetito! A presto :-)


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