Raw, unshelled and a bit too expensive for my liking the pistachio is something I have loved in food since spending time in Sicily. Pistachios form the basis, the topping and the backbone of many dishes in Sicily both sweet and savoury serving to remind how, in many ways, Sicily is really a place apart, particularly in a culinary sense, and often leaves the Italian mainland in the dust when it comes to eating. The pistachio element is just scratching the surface. Having been part of the Byzantine empire, Sicily has a legacy that encompasses most of the Mediterranean heritage and then some not to mention Arab merchant influence, the Greeks and the Phoenicians all of which remains evident in the architecture and the language as well as the cuisine. Pistachios in ice cream, pistachios in spaghetti dishes, pistachios with aubergine, pistachio pesto…..
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…and then I went to Syria. A major producer of pistachio nuts and a major consumer of them too primarily in sweet sticky desserts such as halwa and baklava and as a topping for their almost chewy creamy ice cream. Rumour has it this has something to do with cornstarch..anyone familiar with Bakdash in the Souk El-Hamidiyeh in Damscus confirm? Or perhaps the answer lies here?

This trip was good.

Indeed, it was wonderful. Here I would just like to spend a minute doing the job the so-called Ministry for Tourism in Syria has evidently been having a difficult time doing.As in, promoting a great holiday destination: this is a wonderful country with wonderful people and great, great food. So, GO! All of you. In droves. Bring your family. And your appetite.

But I digress, back to the pistachios….

Pistachio sauce.

This recipe comes from the first Moro cookbook, The Moro Cookbook. A book evoking flavours and ingredients from other eras and lifetimes, where liver finds it’s way back onto our plates and you genuinely feel like you’ve learned something after reading it. The authors were inspired by and fell in love with Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean and what they call the ‘saffron-cinnamon link’ which brings us back to the beginning of the post because, in many ways, Sicily and Spain were the main points of communication between east and west for centuries…

This sauce is fast, fresh and is excellent with grilled chicken, lamb or fish.

Ingredients

150gr shelled unsalted pistachios
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
1 garlic clove crushed with a little salt
1 small bunch fresh parsley
some fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon water
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Making

In a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the nuts. (Or chop them by hand) Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients checking for seasoning as you go.

(Recipe taken from The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, Ebury Press, 2001)DSC_1051