This month’s baklava flavor is one of my top sellers. I find that it’s quite popular with my middle-eastern clients who also enjoy baklava in their cultures but prefer the earthy, rustic flavor of pistachios to walnuts. I didn’t grow up baking with pistachios. In fact, the only real tree nuts I grew up incorporating into my baked goods were walnuts and pecans. Now don’t get me wrong: I love these two nuts very much, but once I was introduced to pistachios I was IN NUT HEAVEN.
I remember first seeing them around Christmas time at our country market when I was a little girl. As I recall they were dyed a red/pinkish tint, and I don’t remember seeing them again until years later when I was studying abroad in Spain and then again while I was traveling through Italy.
Besides baklava, my all-time-favorite sweet treat is ice cream. I love American ice cream and frozen custards, and while in Italy I fell madly in love with gelato. My favorite flavor was…pistachio. It was creamy and smooth, and the nutty pistachio flavor was so addicting. The color was a perfect, warm green that looked exactly like the flesh of the nut—not that artificial and obviously inauthentic mint-colored green that I grew up seeing at the local ice cream store in North Carolina. Everywhere I went in Italy I had to try their version of pistachio gelato. Getting my cup was never an easy task, but I was always up to the challenge because it was so worth it! There were ALWAYS large crowds of people standing in front of the gelato displays but never any real lines. I just had to work myself up to the front with my hand up, smiling really nicely, trying to make eye contact with the person dishing out the delicious scoops while shouting my order. It was always a small pistachio: “Piccolo pistachio, please!”
I came home from my first trip to Italy in 2009 with a taste for all things pistachio, so I set out to make a pistachio baklava. Pistachios aren’t cheap. In fact, they are quite expensive so I decided to pair it with a great compliment: pecans! While my recipe calls for equal parts pistachios to pecans, I find myself being a bit heavy handed with the pistachios because I so want you to enjoy the pistachio experience. I also love to garnish with the green nut because, frankly, I think the color is beautiful.
A few fun facts about pistachios: 1) In China pistachios are called the “happy nut” and in Iran the “smiling nut” because, in the shell, they look like they are smiling. 2) In the first century AD the Emperor of Rome introduced Italy to the pistachio. 3) Its green color comes from antioxidants and 4) The red/pinkish color I mentioned earlier was the result of pistachios being dyed to cover their imperfections, as merchants wanted to make them look more palatable to consumers.
Enjoy your Pistachio/Pecan Mix Baklava! I hope my story makes your palate yearn for this month’s ambrosia.
—Peace, Love, & Baklava Forever,