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Uncover the Sweet History of Sicilian Pistachios & Lemons with an Easy Cookie Recipe preview!

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Join us on a mouthwatering journey to Sicily, the Mediterranean's largest island, a gem known for its breathtaking coastline, ancient ruins, and remarkable architecture. But that's not all! Sicily is also renowned for its extraordinary cuisine, showcasing the finest natural and fresh ingredients sourced from fertile lands. Among these culinary delights are the beloved pistachio and lemon, both of which have a fascinating history and role in Sicilian food culture. Follow along as we explore the origins of these flavorful ingredients, their harvest times, and how they infuse Sicilian dishes with unique tastes.


In this blog post, we'll uncover the fascinating history of these flavor-packed ingredients. We'll also explore when they're harvested and how they shape Sicily's vibrant food culture. And as a special treat, we're sharing a recipe preview for our Pistachio Lemon cookies fro our new eBook A Seat at my Sicilian Table This recipe along with 8 others will tantalize your taste buds and let you experience the true essence of Sicilian flavor!


PISTACHIOS

Did you know that the pistachio tree has been grown in Sicily since Roman times? That's right, since the first century BCE! And do you know why? Because Sicily's climate is perfect for these tasty nuts. The warm and arid Mediterranean conditions allow the pistachio tree to thrive.


Speaking of pistachios, have you ever tried the ones from the province of Bronte, Sicily? They are famous for their incredible flavor and vibrant colour. These pistachios are delicately hand-picked during the months of August and September. Skilled pickers carefully shake the trees, collecting these flavorful nuts in large bags securely fastened to their necks. The harvest only happens every two years, giving the plants a chance to rejuvenate.


In fact, the pistachio is so important to Bronte that it is symbolically acknowledged as the area's pride and joy. When it comes to excellence and quality in pistachios, Bronte is where it's at.



Image credit: siciliyonweb.com


It’s no wonder pistachios have made their way into all kinds of recipes, from sweet to savoury! You can find a lot of packaged goods too, one of my favourites is Cream di Pistacchio, a spreadable treat similar to Nutella but made with Bronte pistachios and cacao butter… its amazing on anything and incredibly addictive :)

LEMONS

Have you ever tasted the delightful flavor of Sicilian lemons? These lemons are not your average fruit - they have gained a reputation for their exceptional quality. In fact, the region is even called the Lemon Riviera! The island's unique terroir produces lemons that are both sweet and mildly acidic, creating a taste like no other.


Under the umbrella of Sicilian lemons, you'll find the main varieties: Femminello, Internato, Lunario, and Monachello. However, it's the Femminello lemons that take center stage, being the most widely cultivated type on the island. Each region of Sicily boasts its own preferred lemon variety, and some types even come into season multiple times a year.



But how did these wonderful lemons find their way to Sicily? Well, it all started in the 9th century when they were introduced from Asia. The Arabs, who had recently conquered the island, brought them over through their commercial trade routes from the Middle East, Egypt, and other parts of North Africa. They must have known what they were doing because Sicily's climate turned out to be perfect for citrus production. Thanks to Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the region enjoys cold nights, hot days, and never freezing ground, creating the ideal conditions for growing lemons.


Lemons in Sicily weren't always as abundant as they are today. In fact, they were considered a luxury food for a long time. It wasn't until the 17th century when the Jesuit Fathers started cultivating citrus on a larger scale that things began to change. This led to the development of bigger farms and orchards across the region. However, the real breakthrough came in the 19th century when the British Royal Navy started sourcing lemons from Sicily. They needed them to combat scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. This newfound demand for Sicilian lemons made them highly profitable and led to widespread exports across Europe, Asia, and North America.


Although Sicily may no longer be the largest producer of lemons, their lemons are still highly regarded for their taste and nutritional value. These citrus gems are packed with goodness. They are a rich source of vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system while reducing inflammation. Plus, they contain fiber that helps stimulate digestion and potassium that helps balance fluid levels in the body. But that's not all - lemons also provide important nutrients like copper for connective tissue development, iron for oxygen transportation, calcium for strong bones and teeth, and a range of other beneficial vitamins and minerals.


And let's not forget about the antioxidants! Sicilian lemons are loaded with antioxidants that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. It's no wonder that they are traditionally squeezed into water for a refreshing and health-boosting drink. But their benefits don't stop there - lemons are also used in natural beauty remedies. From lightening nails to treating the scalp and improving complexion, these versatile fruits have a place in your beauty routine too.


Dynamic Combo

This leads us to an amazing flavor pairing, the dynamic duo of pistachio and lemon! From the floral yet earthy notes of the pistachios, contrasted with the bright tanginess of the lemons, this combination is sure to delight your senses!



Pistachios and lemons are not only used in traditional dishes but also in modern Sicilian cuisine. Some chefs incorporate these two flavorful products in creative combinations to produce novel, delicious dishes. A few examples of such dishes are Pasta with Pistachio Lemon Pesto, Lemon-glazed Pistachio Tart, Arancini di Riso with Pistachio Lemon Pesto, and Pistachio and Lemon Cannoli. These recipes showcase the versatility of these two ingredients and how they enhance the flavor of any dish.


Get ready to enjoy a delicious twist on a classic Sicilian recipe - Pistachio Lemon Cookies! Inspired by my unforgettable trip to the picturesque Amalfi Coast, I created this recipe to bring back the flavors I fell in love with. After a few tries, I perfected these irresistible cookies that blend the richness of pistachios with the zesty freshness of Sicilian lemons. Sweet and tangy, they're the perfect treat for the holiday season. Plus, with an easy-to-follow recipe, you'll have a batch of 36 cookies in no time. Get ready to indulge!


Easy Lemon Pistachio Cookies


Makes 36 cookies


Ingredients


These cookies are so easy to make, and if you have lemons and pistachios, you probably have most of all the other ingredients already in your pantry.


Cookie Dough

  • 1/3 cup of salted butter (room temperature)

  • 1 1/2 cups of raw cane or granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1/3 cup premium olive oil

  • 1 lemon (zested & juiced)

  • 1/2 cup toasted pistachio (chopped finely)

  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 2 cups of unbleached flour


Royal Icing

  • 1 cup icing sugar

  • 1 tsp lemon juice or cold water (+/-)

  • 1/3 cup toasted pistachio (chopped finely)

  • 1/2 tsp flake salt


Instructions

I've listed this out step by step to make this is an easy peasy recipe!

  1. Start by gathering all your ingredients.

  2. Wash the lemon and then zest and juice it, reserving each in separate bowls.

  3. Using a stand or hand held mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Mix until creamed, which should take about 3-4 minutes and the colour will be paler.

  4. Then, add one egg at a time, ensuring that each egg is fully mixed in and the mixture becomes light and fluffy before adding the other

  5. On low speed, incorporate the olive oil, zests, and pistachios until just combined.

  6. Gently incorporate the flour and baking powder in three parts, being careful to not over mix. You can use a spatula for this part or low speed on the mixer.

  7. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

  8. Preheat to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  9. Using a small spoon, scoop up a small amout and roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 12 of these balls per baking sheet and bake at 350˚F for 6-8 minutes or until the tops are no longer shiny. Once baked, allow the cookies to cool.

  10. For the icing, simply mix icing sugar and lemon juice ( or water ) in a small bowl until it becomes smooth. In another bowl, combine the chopped pistachios and flake salt. Dip or drizzle the top of each cookie with icing, and then add the pistachio and salt. Let the cookies set on a cookie sheet for about 15-20 minutes before transferring them to an airtight container. These cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 5 days or for a chewier texture in the fridge up to 10 days.



A helpful tip: you can freeze the uncooked cookie balls and keep them in a ziplock bag for up to 3 months. If you decide to bake them while still frozen, just add 2 minutes to the baking time.


Sicily's history is a long tour from the centuries of Arab rule to current-day Italy, and their cuisine is a sumptuous part of that legacy. The combination of Sicilian pistachios and lemons in both traditional and modern cooking is a testament to their incredible versatility. The unique attributes of these two ingredients and the ways they are used in Sicilian cuisine further highlight the regional differences in Italy and how one can experience them through the food.



If you enjoy this cookie recipe, you're going to love the eBook its part of. This downloadable cookbook includes an additional 8 savory and sweet recipes that capture the essence of Sicilian food culture and home cooking. It a wonderful, cost effective gift for all the foodies on your list, at just 6€ for a 32 page book!



We hope you adore all the recipes just like many of our subscribers!

These lemon pistachio cookies are delicious and easy enough to make with my kids. Actually we make them all the time, thank you for this amazing recipe! –MJ Dion

Please share with your results with us in the comments section, we love hearing from you :)


Enjoy friends,


xo

Priscilla

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