There are pistachios and then there are pistachios. The first time I had pistachios I was riding bitch in my dad’s Chevy Luv and he offered to let me “drive,” meaning he pulled me onto his lap and let me man the wheel. We hulled pistachios with our teeth and spit the shells out the permanently rolled-down drivers’ side window. I had so much fun I forgot my hard-earned lessons in toilet training and peed on his legs. I must have been about four. The pistachios were good- sufficient for my post-toddler tastebuds.
The first time I had pistachios I was in Naples, Italy. I was 19 and on a solo backpacking tour of Europe. I had just arrived in Naples after a harrowing experience in Corfu, Greece at the Pink Palace. The Pink Palace is the kind of place that makes you slam shots of fuchsia-hued ouzo on the shuttle bus before you’ve even checked in to the hostel. The Pink Palace is the kind of place that makes you wear a toga to dinner, and further, a staffer performs a creepy gym class-style hand check to make sure you are sans undergarments beneath the cheap sheet. The Pink Palace is the kind of place where you are forced to room with three girls from Saskatchewan who make fun of you for being American even though one of them has trouble naming the Canadian provinces. These same three girls make a pact not to sleep with anyone later that night.
When you return to the room around midnight after your fruitful search for hashish on the zero-tolerance island of Corfu (which you locate from an employee- he shares his stash with you then puts you on the back of his scooter for a cliff-hugging tour of the island under moonlight), you find that none of the three girls has kept her promise regarding the pact. One of them is on your bed with a hairy Iowan attempting to swallow his penis whole as far as you can tell. You spot another “roommate” naked by the pool with two men bouncing coins of local currency off her dripping bosom. The third Canadian chanteuse is evidently in the bathroom because the “music” of Tarzan grunting followed by Jane squealing billows from behind the thoughtfully-locked door. You gather your possessions and head to the pier, willing the casino-equipped ferry to dock faster so it can whisk you back to Brindisi whereupon you adopt an “if you can’t fight ‘em join ‘em” attitude and purchase your first ever pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes.
I smoked through this pack of cigarettes during the six hour train ride from Brindisi to Napoli. I met a man who asked if he could sketch me to while away the time. He taught me the word “spinello” and gently, laughingly corrected the awkward Italian introduction I had been giving to people, which was met with puzzled, mocking looks. I had, apparently been saying “I love you, I’m clean,” rather than “my name is Linda, what’s yours?”
When my hemp sandals touched the cobblestones of Naples for the first time, reverb like a rolling orgasm shot from my toes to my head. Naples has so much magic I had to glance at the sky to see if the moon and the stars were in the right place. Paris has my heart, I could happily live in Turin for the rest of my life, and the island of Mauritius is my personal idea of paradise, but I have yet to experience a city as deeply alive as Naples.
I inhaled Naples for the three shortest days I’ve ever had the privilege to live. I pummeled the streets, trekked through Pompeii, ferried to Capri, and sang That’s Amore at my lungs’ full height at dusk in the Piazza del Plebiscito. I ate a steady diet of pizza and gelato- three of each per day. On the morning of my second day in Naples I discovered a small gelateria with a queue out the door. I stepped into the queue. I watched customer after satisfied customer walk away with the same flavor- gelato al pistacchio di Bronte. The man scooping gelato must have been 80- a slight figure with just a few wisps of hair left at the sides of his head and a constant smile that competed with the lines in his face for space. He scooped methodically with the cadence of a turtle, as if every cono and cuppa was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. When he finished constructing each two-scoop harlequin-hued tower, he crumbled a few pieces of what looked like light emeralds on top. I was curious about these gems, and when I got to the front of the line twenty minutes later, I asked what they were. “Ci sono pistacchi di Bronte, Sicilia, cara,” he replied in response to my mimed question. He handed me a cone with an extra pinch of pistacchi on top and I puzzled over how a humble pistachio could possibly get so green. In addition to the brilliant color, these Bronte pistachios concentrate the intensity of the city of Naples in their tiny capsules. They manage to be sweet, creamy and delicate while at the same time assaulting your tongue with a softly-lingering flavor.
I have always been foodcentric, but my latter teens and early 20’s was a relative Dark Age compared to the zeal I possess now. Nevertheless, Bronte pistachios took hold of my palate and shook it vigorously while loudly screaming “remember us, never forget” and I have never forgotten. I am so singularly enamored that I purchase ridiculously expensive little jars of Bronte Pistachio Cream for gelato, and sometimes, just to enjoy straight from the spoon.
I have never used the pistachio cream in a savory application, until now. I must have touched a divining rod before dinner because the simple combination of chevre, pistachio, and a soupcon of cream is pure kitchen sorcery. I served the pistachio fondue with beet “noodles” that I cooked en sous vide with a little pistachio oil. By “noodles” I mean whole beet plants from leaf to root. If you’re a farmer’s market stalker like me, you can find these this time of year. Tiny beets this size look like cherry-flavored Ring Pops- so pretty you want to savor them but soon you can’t resist eating the whole jewel. Sous vide cooking tenderizes the sometimes tough beet stems and neutralizes the acidic flavor so they take on the same delicate sweetness of the beets and leaves. We twirled beets around our forks like bucatini and splashed them in the pistachio fondue before greedily wolfing down bites. There was a little fondue left in the bowl after the beets were gone. I licked it clean. I’m not ashamed.
Bronte Pistachio Fondue
- ¼ c heavy cream
- 5 oz creamy, top-quality chevre (goat cheese)
- Four generous spoonfuls of Bronte Pistachio Cream
- A fine finishing salt such as Murray River or Maldon
Combine the first three ingredients in a small saucepan- Le Creuset or other enameled, heavy-bottomed pan is best. Over low heat, stir until the green whirls into the white and the cream envelopes the cheese. Once the sauce is smooth, add a little finishing salt and serve with beets, grissini, or simply lick it out of the hot pot like a crazed woman from a Euripedes play.