To boost the craveability of your pastries and confections, reach for pistachios. Among nuts, they’re the style leader, the one that makes any creation more fashion forward. Pistachio is the flavor of the moment—in gelato, in biscotti, and in the biggest pastry trend from Paris: the macaron. Around the country, patrons at wine bars and craft-brew taprooms are enjoying pistachios roasted with contemporary seasonings like smoked salt and pimentón.
Today America leads the world in pistachio production—both in quantity and quality. With California-grown pistachios so prevalent, you can give imported nuts a pass. And with convenient formats like shelled kernels, you can easily experiment with making your own pistachio paste and pistachio flour.
Join chef-instructors from the Culinary Institute of America in this online exploration of pistachios’ potential. Assisted by acclaimed French pastry chef Jean–Yves Charon, the chefs will demonstrate how to prepare cakes, confections, macarons, gelato, and even an unusual guacamole with pistachios. The accompanying text, videos, and chef-tested recipes will give you the resources to dive more deeply on your own.
To be sure you’re buying the finest pistachios, ask your supplier about the source. Several countries grow pistachios, and the quality differs in ways you should note.
America is now the world’s leading grower, an up-from-nothing success story. Rising steadily from the first commercial crop in 1976, the country’s harvest now surpasses Iran’s. And our quality has the Iranians beat, too.
California produces 99 percent of the nation’s crop, with small contributions from Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. All told, American farmers grow 42 percent of the world’s pistachios. Iran places second by volume, with Syria and Turkey far behind.
Recommended storage: Cold storage (32°F to 40°F) at 55% to 70% humidity is best for pistachios. Stack cases on pallets and keep sealed until ready to use. Keep nuts away from foods with strong odors. Maintain FIFO (first in, first out) procedures and your pistachios should remain in good condition for up to one year.
Stock your kitchen with pistachios in a variety of forms so you always have the best type for the task. From raw in-shell pistachios—a blank slate for your own seasonings—to sweetened paste for confections and pastries, pistachios come in a format that fits. And with multiple formats always on hand, you’re prepared when inspiration strikes.
The ultimate bar food, plump pistachios still in their shells have that irresistible come-hither look. Splitting the shells, one by one, and extracting the buttery nut only enhances the snacker’s pleasure.
To try: Curried Chicken Salad with Chopped Pistachios
To try: Biscotti with White Chocolate Chips and Pistachios
Labor-saving shelled kernels are the ultimate convenience. Buy raw or roasted, salted or unsalted, whole or diced.
To try: Chocolate Mousse with Toasted Pistachios and Fleur de Sel
To try: Saffron Rice Pilaf with Pistachios and Currants
To try: White Chocolate Bark with Peppermint and Pistachios
Also known as pistachio meal, pistachio flour is a specialty item available from a few suppliers. Or you can make it yourself. Use in cakes, cupcakes, tart doughs, quick breads, and muffins.
To try: Pistachio Linzer Torte
Pistachios are ground until smooth and creamy, with or without sweetener. Typically, butter is unsweetened; commercial paste may be sweetened with glucose or corn syrup. Currently no large-scale American manufacturer offers pistachio butter or paste, and most European producers use Iranian or Italian nuts. However, at least one European processor prepares pistachio paste with California nuts. Contact American Pistachio Growers. Find a supplier
Use pistachio butter in satay-type sauces for grilled meats. Use pistachio paste in confectionery and pastry fillings, gelato, and mousses.
To try: Toasted brioche sandwiches with pistachio paste and raspberry jam
You probably don’t eat pistachios because they’re good for you, but it’s nice to know that nutritionists give them the thumbs up. Numerous studies suggest that pistachios deliver significant health benefits: for heart disease, blood pressure, weight management, and nutrition. A closer look:
Heart health: Evidence supports the claim that eating pistachios may protect against heart disease. People who ate 1-1/2 ounces a day (about 75 pistachios) as part of an overall healthy diet had a lower risk of cardiovascular ailments.
Antioxidants: Scientists are still trying to understand the complex role these molecules play in the aging process. But they do know that antioxidants protect against cell damage—and even repair cell damage—and thus may help prevent some cancers and heart disease. Pistachios boast a lot of antioxidant power—more, ounce for ounce, than so-called “superfoods” like blueberries, garlic, and pomegranate juice.
Weight control: Many people find that small, wholesome snacks are a big help in managing appetite. A portion-controlled snack, such as an ounce of pistachios (about 50), can take the edge off your hunger, so you’re not ravenous at mealtimes. Smart snack choices are nutrient rich—high in fiber, lean protein, and healthy fat—to keep you fueled for hours. Keep a bag of pistachios in your desk or your car for those times when energy flags. They’re the ultimate portable snack.
Nutrition: Pistachios have a report card to boast about. A single ounce provides more fiber than one half-cup of broccoli; as much protein as an ounce of soybeans; and some heart-healthy fat (mostly mono- and polyunsaturated). Two ounces have more potassium than a large banana. And no cholesterol, of course.
Nut allergies: Peanuts and tree nuts, such as walnuts and pistachios, produce an allergic reaction in some individuals. The reaction can be severe, so anyone with a known nut allergy should consult with a physician before eating pistachios. Chefs: be sure to inform customers when a dish contains pistachios or any other tree nuts.
Looking for a wholesome party snack? Try Pistachio Guacamole.
In communities around the country, bar chefs are the newest rock stars. Creative cocktails can make bar profits soar, and if you want patrons to say, “I’ll have another,” offer a savory accompaniment.
“Salty, spicy foods get people to drink more,” says Aaron Brown, chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.
“That’s the reason we have bar snacks.”
An ambitious bar program calls for more than stale pretzels. Spiced California pistachios can add class to your bar menu, and you can alter the seasoning to fit your culinary style or to complement a featured drink.
Chef Brown uses in-shell pistachios tossed with beaten egg white to help the seasonings adhere. Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, there’s nowhere these spiced nuts can’t go.
Play around with the popular smoked salts, Maldon flaked salt, and truffle salt. Sugar works, too, so consider some sweet-and-spicy combinations. Chef Brown suggests date sugar and Aleppo pepper. “Sugar sticks to the egg white and gets the other spices to stick,” says Chef Brown. “And you can feel comfortable upping the heat because the sugar offsets it.”
Housemade charcuterie—aka salumi—is also raising the bar at the bar these days. Count on bright green pistachios to enhance your charcuterie’s eye appeal. Incorporate whole nuts in pâtés and terrines, in mortadella and duck sausage. Sprinkle crunchy chopped nuts on creamy chicken liver mousse or pork rillettes.
Even if your bar scene is limited to wine and beer, pistachios can still boost the tab. Nothing surpasses the elegant simplicity of in-shell pistachios and sparkling wine. And with buttery Chardonnay, pistachios are as compatible as bread with jam. Spread pistachio butter on crostini for an easy Chardonnay-friendly bar snack. Grassy herbs like tarragon and dill make the link to Sauvignon Blanc—or make stuffed dolmas with dill and pistachios. Scent pistachios with woody herbs like rosemary and thyme to complement red wines such as Syrah and Zinfandel. And when pistachios get spicy, look to craft beer. Chef Robert Del Grande’s Pistachio Guacamole calls for a crisp, refreshing Pilsner. With sweet-and-spicy coated nuts, pour a sweet and spicy Belgian dubbel.
Among all the nuts in the baker’s toolbox, only pistachios add luscious color. Sprinkled on top of Danish pastry, on a glistening apricot tart, or on honey-drenched baklava, they provide the visual contrast that makes for eye appeal. Introduction to pistachios in baking applications:
In India, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, pistachios impart an air of luxury and sophistication to baked goods and other desserts. A few examples to inspire your own creativity:
Rice pudding scented with rose water and garnished with chopped pistachios
Naan (yeast-risen flatbread) dough incorporating toasted pistachios and dried cherries, an idea from Indian cooking teacher Julie Sahni
“Bird’s nest” pastry made of filo coiled around chopped pistachios and drizzled with syrup
Kadayif: “shredded wheat” pastry with sugar syrup, orange flower water, cream filling, and chopped pistachios
Ana Sortun’s Palace Bread: This Cambridge, Massachusett’s, chef’s version of kadayif uses baguette chunks simmered in caramel with rose water and garnished with mascarpone and pistachios.
Maamoul: semolina cookies with orange blossom water and pistachio filling
In baked goods, flavor complements for pistachios include:
“Pistachios remain green only until you toast them,” notes Aaron Brown, chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. A light toasting heightens their flavor, but the nuts will darken with the heat. Folded into quick breads, muffins, cupcakes, or yeast breads, they contribute crunch and buttery flavor but they don’t stay green.
To preserve their green color, sprinkle pistachios on baked goods after baking—on top of a cheesecake or pear tart, for example. Or use them in items like shortbread that bake at a relatively low temperature, minimizing the color change.
When finely ground, pistachios make a versatile flour that opens a world of opportunity in baking. Pistachio cupcakes, anyone?
You won’t find pistachio flour (also known as pistachio meal) on a supermarket shelf, but a few grower cooperatives do produce it. (Click here for suppliers.) Alternatively, you can make your own—no special equipment required.
Best method: Blanch the shelled nuts in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain well and spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Let dry overnight. (You can put them in a 325°F for a couple of minutes to get the drying process started.) Grind as finely as possible in a food processor. Monitor closely to avoid making nut butter.
“When the mixture gets to the right consistency, I run the flour through a sieve,” says Culinary Institute of America chef-instructor Aaron Brown. “Whatever’s left in the sieve, I re-process. The pistachio flour should be comparable to almond meal.”
You can toast the nuts before you grind them, which heightens their flavor. But flour from raw nuts will be greener, yielding baked goods closer in color to what consumers anticipate. Even so, a cake or muffin made with pistachio flour will not have the same green hue as commercial pistachio ice cream.
“My Pistachio Cake with Olive Oil is wonderful,” says Brown. “But the cake is not the color that Americans expect when they think of pistachios. When we bake anything with pistachios, it doesn’t turn out green. If it does, that’s food coloring.”
Despite the color change that heat produces, Chef Brown wanted a rich roasted flavor in his cake so he toasts the nuts before grinding them. Although suppliers offer roasted pistachio kernels as a convenience, Chef Brown prefers to buy raw nuts so he can control the degree of roasting.
Pistachio flour stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to three months. It can replace almond flour in any recipe, such as quick breads, muffins, and frangipane.
“The nice thing about nut flours is that they contain no gluten, so they give you a nice, tender crumb,” says Chef Brown. In a foaming-method cake, such as génoise, pistachio flour can replace up to 20 percent of the wheat flour—and an even higher percentage in a creamed cake.
“We do a pistachio frangipane tart at the CIA, with a tart-dough crust and lattice,” says Chef Brown. “You could nest pears, apricots, or figs in the frangipane. And the frangipane makes a great filling for Danish.”
Who doesn’t appreciate an elegant box of candy or a plate of dainty mignardises at the end of a meal? Kids may vote for quantity over quality in candy, but most adults prefer their sweets in small bites. Pistachios shine in this world of confections, the tiny treats that make a restaurant’s coffee service memorable or that add a grace note when the check is presented.
“Pistachios are delicious and pretty,” says Stephen Durfee, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. “They add diversity and a layer of luxury compared to other nuts.”
Chef Durfee uses pistachios frequently in confections and chocolates. In those applications, he considers the nuts interchangeable with almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts. “If a confectionery recipe works for one type, I assume that I can use another,” says the chef. “It opens up all kinds of versatility.”
The novelty of pistachios can make a familiar pastry or confection more exciting. Try pistachios instead of almonds in frangipane, or make pistachio baklava. Durfee sometimes fills chocolates with pistachio marzipan or Pistachio Chocolate Candy Filling. You can riff on gianduja—the Italian hazelnut and chocolate spread—with pistachio paste; use as a confectionery center, enrobed in dark or white chocolate.
For more pistachio inspiration, look to confections from around the globe. Bone-white torrone (aka nougat) relies on pistachios for eye appeal. Turkish delight, that chewy confection, almost always includes pistachios and a hint of rose water. Pistachio halva is a sumptuous Middle Eastern treat; what an impression it would make with mint tea. An All-American nut brittle made with pistachios could dress up a scoop of ice cream.
Use whole or coarsely chopped pistachios for crunch—in chocolate bark, for example. Finely chopped pistachios can garnish chocolate candies and truffles.
Use pistachio paste for marzipan, gianduja, and confectionery centers.
Use pistachio butter instead of paste when you want to control the sweetness.
The following flavors are among the most compatible with pistachios:
If you rely on pistachio paste to flavor ice cream, buttercream, or pastry filling, don’t you want to use the real thing? The fact is, a lot of so-called pistachio paste isn’t 100 percent pistachio. Some manufacturers sell a “pistachio” paste made from bitter almond paste with green food coloring. Use this product and your desserts will have the hue that pistachio fans expect but lack that buttery pistachio taste.
Fortunately, it’s a cinch to make your own pistachio paste and pistachio butter (the oily paste with no sweetener added). And you’ll reap many benefits. Do it yourself and you can use California-grown pistachios. (Others typically use Iranian or Italian nuts.) Plus, you can control the amount of sweetener you add—or add none at all—and you can prepare the paste or butter as needed so it doesn’t go stale.
To blanch or not to blanch? For the brightest green color, blanch the nuts first, then skin them. Just drop the nuts into a pot of boiling water briefly, drain, and rub them between dishtowels to remove the skin. If you don’t mind a slightly darker color, omit the blanching and leave the skins on. The skins contain antioxidants, so bear that in mind.
Pistachio butter, like other nut butters, is made by finely grinding shelled pistachios until they release their oil and produce a smooth, creamy paste. All you need is a food processor. Be sure to toast the nuts lightly first and grind them while warm to unleash their natural oil. Scrape down the work bowl and continue grinding until the nut butter is silky smooth. Add a pinch of salt to heighten flavor if desired.
For pistachio paste, add sweetener to taste. Some commercial pistachio pastes contain no sweetener, but some do. By making your own, you know the exact sugar percentage and can standardize recipes accordingly. If you add food coloring, be cautious; the natural appearance of a paste made with California pistachios can be a selling point.
For short-term use—within a couple of weeks—you don’t need to refrigerate pistachio butter or paste. If refrigerated, it will keep indefinitely.
Video demo: Chef Stephen Durfee demonstrates the simple method for a food-processor pistachio paste.
It’s ice cream versus gelato, and how will you vote? Ice cream is America’s favorite frozen dessert. Gelato is the upstart from Italy. Why not say yes to both? You don’t have to take sides, but you should understand the differences because some of your customers do.
Italians invented gelato, so they have firm ideas about it. In their view, gelato is a wholesome, high-calcium, mid-afternoon snack, not a calorific indulgence like ice cream. Some key distinctions:
The language police won’t bust you if you make pistachio ice cream and call it gelato, but at least you should understand your options.
Thickeners: Using egg to thicken your custard yields a product with an eggy taste. That’s not unpleasant, but it does mask some pistachio flavor. To get a more pronounced pistachio taste, consider replacing egg yolks with cornstarch. Turkish ice cream uses salep, a starch extracted from orchid roots. Xanthum gum or guar gum is another possibility for thickening custard without hiding the flavor you want to highlight.
“A lot of chefs are modernizing their ice cream with a more contemporary formula that relies less on egg, a recipe that delivers flavor in a more efficient way,” says Stephen Durfee, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. “Seawood or gum does the job more efficiently because you use less of it.”
Pistachio products: Durfee uses pistachio paste to make gelato from milk, cream, and sugar. For more mouthfeel, he thickens the base with cornstarch before blending it with pistachio paste. For a pistachio ice cream with whole nuts, he suggests roasting the nuts first to help them stay crunchy. Use low-temperature roasting to preserve the green color. The base ice cream could be vanilla, pistachio, rose water or saffron.
Other frozen desserts: “In my classes we make an Indian-style ice cream called kulfi,” says Chef Durfee. “It’s not aerated. We fold pistachios into it for texture, and it’s molded.” Or make a pistachio semifreddo with crushed pistachio praline. Chef Durfee sometimes makes a nougat glacé: Swiss meringue and whipped cream folded together with pistachio praline, then frozen. Fold in some candied orange peel and chopped chocolate while you’re at it.
Truth squad: Most commercial pistachio ice cream doesn’t even contain pistachios. Manufacturers use almond paste for flavor and green food coloring to produce the hue that consumers expect. Better to educate consumers than to dupe them: Make your pistachio ice cream with real pistachios or pistachio paste and inform patrons that the pale-green color is natural and a sign of purity.
Wine enthusiasts and beer fans, let’s just call it a draw. Pistachios are equal-opportunity nuts; they love you both. Depending on the preparation, pistachios are as comfortable with a porter or pilsner as they are with Pinot Noir. They can get down at a ballpark tailgate or go dressy when the occasion requires. For just about any pistachio dish you can dream up, you can find a beer and a wine that will work.
With Chicken Liver Crostini with Pistachios
Wine: Rosso di Montalcino
Beer: Belgian-style Pale Ale
With Spicy Mediterranean Roasted Pistachios
Beer: Pale Ale
With Pistachio Guacamole
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc
With Tuna Crudo with Pistachios and Pistachio Oil
Beer: Wheat Beer
With Spaghetti with Pistachio Pesto
With Grilled Swordfish with Pistachio-Caper Butter
Beer: India Pale Ale
With Pistachio Dusted Roast Salmon
Wine: Pinot Noir
With Pork and Pistachio Meatballs
Beer: Amber Ale
With Lamb Chops in Pistachio Crust
Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon
Beer: Imperial Red Ale
With Pistachio Cake with Olive Oil
Wine: Marsala or Italian vin santo
Beer: Belgian-style Quadrupel