Whether you are traveling in your RV or at home for the holiday season, it is a time for special events, parties and foods, and a time when we often match green and red in our decorations, clothes and foods.
The fall harvest of California’s pistachios is in the markets now. These Western favorites are a subtle green and have a tender crunch and a slightly floral-peach flavor. It is this sensual balance that makes them compatible with fruit, herbs and cheese, in both sweet and savory combinations. Their delicate, subtle flavor is wonderful for eating out of hand too.
The pistachio nut has a hard, tan shell that encloses a pale green nut. The shells of some pistachios are colored red as a way to cover blemishes, while others have been blanched until white. The nuts are also dyed because many people find that form familiar, and so they’re easier to spot in a bowl of mixed nuts.
Pistachios are available year-round shelled and unshelled, either raw or roasted and salted or not. When buying unshelled pistachios make sure the shells are partially open—not only because it’s a great help in getting the nutmeat out, but also because closed shells mean the nutmeat is immature.
Pistachio-cranberry biscotti is a delightful Christmas remembrance that you can make, wrap in Saran wrap, put into Christmas coffee mugs and give to friends and neighbors.
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 cup of pistachio nuts
1 cup of dried cranberries
Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon to the creamed mixture, and blend until smooth. Fold in the nuts and cranberries.
Divide the dough in half and on a lightly greased baking sheet, shape into 3 logs about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inches high. Place them 3 inches apart. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 25-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
Cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut each log diagonally into three-quarter-inch slices. Place the slices cut-side down on a baking sheet and toast each side in a 275-degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool.
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
Green food coloring
3/4 cup of finely chopped pistachio nuts
In a large bowl with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites and salt until frothy. Gradually add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time. Add extract and continue beating for about 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture holds stiff peaks. Beat in enough food coloring to tint a pale green. Fold in nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets. Bake in preheated 300-degree oven 30 minutes.
Cool completely on cookie sheets set on wire racks. Peel away from foil when cooled.
And here is one with all the Christmas colors:
PISTACHIO APPLE CRANBERRY DESSERT
3 pounds of tart pie apples, cored and sliced thick—no need to peel
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of flour
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of grated lemon peel
1 cup of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup of pistachios, chopped
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of flour
6 tablespoons of butter
Brandied whipped cream
1 cup of whipping cream
2 tablespoons of brandy
2 tablespoons of sugar
Beat together until soft peaks form
Chopped pistachios for garnish.
Combine apples with sugar, flour, lemon juice and lemon peel in 8×12-inch glass baking pan and cover with foil. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 20-25 minutes or until cooked. Add cranberries and stir gently.
For topping, combine pistachios with sugar and flour. Cut in butter until topping is crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake, uncovered in oven 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Spoon warm into dessert dishes. Top with brandied whipped cream and pistachios.
Here’s another colorful dessert that’s a snap to prepare and more elegant than fruit and cream:
PEARS WITH RICOTTA AND PISTACHIOS
1 cup of ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon peel
2 drops of almond extract
Pinch of salt
2 16-oz cans of pear halves in heavy syrup
Chopped pistachio nuts
In a food processor or blender, combine ricotta cheese, sugar, grated lemon peel, almond extract, and a pinch of salt. Puree until smooth. Drain pear halves. On each of 4 dessert plates arrange 2 pear halves and 1/4 cup of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of chopped pistachio nuts.
HINT OF THE MONTH: Maddeningly small but so delicious, and loved for their color—indulge this season and savor the joy of pistachios.
Marian Platt is a food writer who lives in Sequim, Washington.